Last month I participated in a webcast on The Energy Collective on the topic of carbon capture and the mounting climate crisis. While the discussion covered many approaches and some new ideas that are in the process of being tested, it did not give us time to go into details. Details I would like to explore here.
The topic of the day – every day – is Climate Change. As the population of the globe is more than aware, there is no “quick fix” to the problem: it will take a combination of energy efficiency, renewables and CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) to succeed with the target emissions reduction. On the other hand, energy has to remain affordable for all people. Both I and the company I work for support the two-degree target determined in the Copenhagen Accord from 2010, which means limiting CO2 in the atmosphere to 450 ppm.
And, here are three ways to reach that target.
Cleaner fossil energy
The most effective way to reduce CO2 whilst the global energy demand is growing is to make fossil energy cleaner. This is logical since fossil fuels will continue to be the backbone of global energy supply, even though renewable energy is successfully being developed in parallel. Energy demand continues to grow and is expected to increase another 25 percent by 2030, driven through new developing economies all over the world.
Nowadays more than 60 percent of all CO2 emissions are associated with power generation, industry or transportation. As the biggest consumer of all industry sectors with very low energy efficiency (about 20 percent average), upstream Oil & Gas has a huge potential to reduce emissions. Upstream consumes about 75 percent of its energy to move fluids or gas, e.g. for oil & gas separation and transport using pumps and compressors. The majority of them are driven by small gas engines or low-efficiency gas turbines. As an antidote, one can electrify complete processes. For example, for all-electric natural gas liquefaction as planned for the new plants in British Columbia. Simply by using more efficient drives, whether turbines or variable speed electric motors, we can reduce emissions and thus CO2 footprint considerably.
One simple method, of course, is to use less coal: it is well known that natural gas has much lower CO2 emissions than coal due to the fuel-specific combustion and the higher efficiency in gas power generation. One shining example is the world record of more than 60 percent efficiency in an E.ON natural-gas combined cycle in Bavaria.
Another method is to utilize associated gas instead of flaring it. Currently, 140 billion cubic meters of gas are flared around the globe. Using wasted heat and fuel is one of the low hanging fruits we can pick.
Renewable energy sources are the second pillar in carbon reduction, especially with their huge potential to replace inefficient power plants. As an example: by switching 1 percent simple-cycle gas to a renewable source of energy, more than 100 million tons CO2 can be abated.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the third pillar we have to drive toward. Especially in North America, carbon capture is becoming more and more attractive. But also in China a number of projects are planned.
The first time I heard the ideas to capture CO2 from the air was when I visited the University of Calgary some months ago. Hearing about cost targets of 15-20 U.S. dollars per ton, I thought this might be an affordable technology for the future. Today, there is a lack of CO2 from natural sources in the US for enhanced oil recovery. So, anthropogenic sources are used. Examples are the new IGCC plants in Kemper country, Mississippi, and Summit, Texas. Both will supply CO2 to the existing CO2 pipeline grid.
CO2 for enhanced oil recovery will be used in the future in other parts of the world too, e.g. in the Middle East. Here, too, the oil fields are depleting. To maintain today’s oil production, it will be necessary to establish enhanced oil recovery in order to exploit another 10 to 30 percent of the original oil (OOIP) in place of depleted fields. CO2 injection is a promising option for more than 50 percent of these fields in the coming decades. Since the Middle East has no natural sources of CO2, sucking it from the air is one option.
MAERSK, Siemens and Clean Energy Systems from California are currently developing another option. The new system called TriGen is based on oxyfuel combustion and can burn all kinds of gaseous fuels, including waste, to generate clean power and produce CO2 for EOR and water.
These are just a few of the technologies the industry is driving toward to achieve energy efficiency, renewable power and carbon capture. In combination, they will give us the chance to keep our earth habitable for everybody.