Partnering to capture CCS savings

With the UK poised to introduce an offshore carbon storage licensing regime, a process and design optimisation specialist and an Aberdeen-headquartered engineering, construction, operations maintenance and project management group are planning to build on their existing relationship to address the challenges of the emerging carbon capture and storage market. Meg Chesshyre reports.

The partnership between Aspen Technology and PSN ‘saves our customers a world of process headaches', says PSN chief process engineer John Hargreaves. ‘It means we can test new designs more thoroughly to solve real problems, before they become real problems. AspenTech's advanced simulation software is regarded industrywide as the best practice standard. Put that together with our strength as a service contractor and you get a process service that can't be beat.'

The two companies have already collaborated on a FEED design project, taking captured carbon from a power station, via a reformed upstream facility, where the CO2 would then be pumped out to an offshore platform for storage in the reservoir. AspenTech's HYSY software was key in understanding how the facility would operate this process, allowing PSN to simulate the condition for new equipment and, ultimately, enabling PSN to offer its customer the option of a reported $100 million saving on the project.

According to Hargreaves, pilot schemes are beginning to receive funding. The EU is making up to €1 billion available for co-funding of 12 full-scale demonstration projects. Hartsfield coal-fired power station in Yorkshire has allocated £164 million to develop a CCS demo plant. The UK is spending £90 million on the first phase of a competition to build one of the world's first commercial CCS demonstration plants by 2014. The contenders are E.ON's Kingsnorth power station in Kent and Scottish Power's Longannet power station in Fife, with the winner due to be announced next spring. Also, £6.3 million has been allocated to Scottish & Southern Energy's 5MW carbon capture trial at its Ferrybridge power plant in Yorkshire.

The funding covers the cost of the design phase for the competition for a commercial CCS demonstration plant, but Hargreaves wonders if there is any provision for implementation in the period 2011-2014. Also, the UK is providing funding for three projects, but all are coal power generators, even though the UK now derives only 30% of its power from coal compared with 50% from gas.

For large point of source of CO2, CCS can be applied to capture around 90% of carbon in the fuel. Some CCS projects are already in operation at industrial scale, for example Statoil's Sleipner field in the North Sea stores 1 million tonnes of CO2 a year and its Snøhvit gas field in Barents Sea stores 0.7 million t CO2/yr.

In Hargreaves' view, carbon capture, transport and storage is all proven – they just had to be joined up. Regulations, tax regimes, politics and business are now becoming enablers, he says, citing the potential for over 100,000 jobs and £6.5 billion value to the supply chain by 2030.

Hans Wegland, AspenTech VP for north Europe points out that the G8, representing Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US, committed a year ago to cut carbon emissions by a staggering 80% by 2050. Fossil fuels continue to have a vital role in UK energy provision, he says, with the UK's Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) – on record as saying CCS can reduce up to 90% of carbon emissions from power stations – seeking to ensure fossil fuels remain part of a low carbon energy mix.

The potential to store some 4600 million to 46,000 million tonnes of CO2 under the North Sea is being discussed. Part of the existing network of natural gas transmission pipes in the northern part of the UK could also be used to transport CO2, as the volume of North Sea gas declines.

The DECC considers the skills, capabilities, investments, projects and the supply chain for CO2 storage and transport (including aquifers) to be very similar to those in the oil and gas sector. Oil and gas companies are expected to expand into the new area, giving the UK a competitive edge by creating new CO2 transport and storage businesses that apply skills or technology largely derived from the oil & gas industry.

David Bleackley, AspenTech strategic business director E&P, believes the commercialisation of carbon capture is at an inflection point. It could either be rapidly adopted into mainstream culture or it could still die. To achieve the necessary impact on the UK carbon emissions and add value to UK plc would require a solid legislative and taxation policy; innovation in the fundamental science and engineering; innovation in technology for capture, transportation and storage; and high quality engineering and project management skills to realise successful projects.

No single company holds all of these capabilities, says Bleackley, adding that the key to success in this sector is collaboration between leading organisations. OE

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