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Carbon Capture Innovations Will Play A Key Role In Net-Zero Ambitions

Following several announcements over the past year from oil majors investing heavily in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, it appears progress has been made. Several governments and oil firms are working together to come up with various carbon capture solutions, from burying CO2 underground to pumping it into rocks. With the big players working together, this could be the mid-term answer to net-zero emissions the world’s been looking for.  

In the U.K. this week, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) advised the country that the use of the reservoirs under the North Sea for CCS would be most effective, as the technologies get up and running in the region. However, reusing existing onshore wells could also provide an inexpensive and simple means for storing carbon, without having to create new structures or look for alternative land. With operations already taking place in the North Sea, feasibility studies and the development of sites would be relatively simple. 

Net Zero Rise (Research Infrastructure for Subsurface Energy), a group of researchers from universities and oil companies, has recommended 20 candidate oil wells across the Midlands and Yorkshire to bury the initial CO2 loads, around 1,000 tonnes at each site. The repurposing of one well and the construction of two wells with monitoring equipment is expected to cost around $6.6 million. This follows similar tests currently taking place in the U.S. Canada and Australia. 

 By exploring both onshore and offshore options the U.K. could avoid wasting these wells once they become abandoned as they get filled in. Richard Davies, at the University of Newcastle explained, “These assets are already there, while drilling [new] boreholes is very expensive and adds a certain amount of risk. The range of boreholes we have will also give opportunities to test different rock types.”

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There are several different approaches to CCS and as supermajors invest more heavily over the next decade we will begin to see which is most effective. Currently in the Midwest of the U.S. studies are taking place to understand the potential for pumping carbon waste into rock formations. There are two proposals for multiple pipelines in Illinois and North Dakota, which, if approved, would transport carbon dioxide from ethanol plants to rocks located across the states.  

The CO2 would be stored by injecting it in the rocks to be pumped down into wells and then stored in large caverns in the rock sites. Summit Carbon Solutions from Iowa and Navigator CO2 Ventures from Texas are the companies behind the proposals, following the study of the area as a potential carbon storage option for two decades. Summit’s ‘Midwest Carbon Express pipeline’ would be the biggest of its type in the world if achieved, and would also support methane capture in the region. 

A controversial idea that keeps coming up is the burying of CO2 in the world’s sea-beds. Researchers are studying the potential for pipelines to carry carbon to aquifers under sea-beds to be stored for thousands of years, if not forever. However, testing has been particularly difficult due to the hard-to-reach location and understanding of the area’s properties. 

Recent innovations have meant that scientists can finally study the interaction between carbon dioxide and salty aquifer water, recreating saline solutions under conditions of pressure and temperatures similar to that of the proposed ocean areas. They believe this could provide a carbon storage solution that doesn’t lead to secondary repercussions seen in other technologies.  

In Australia, the government announced in November that the country’s first CCS hub will be operational by 2024. Santos and Beach Energy are developing a joint project in Moomba, South Australia with the hopes of reducing emissions from gas production in the area by 70 percent. At a cost of $157.3 million, this marks the first CCS project to fall under the Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF).

Santos plans to use the Bayu-Undan facilities in Timor-Leste to securely store up to 10 million tonnes of CO2per year. It is part of a government plan to continue producing liquefied natural gas (LNG) to meet global energy needs as plans go ahead to curb coal and oil output. LNG is seen by many governments and oil firms as a necessary fuel to bridge the gap between other more polluting fossil fuels and renewable alternatives, employing CCS technologies to reduce the emissions output from production. 

The race is on to see who can come up with the technology needed to extract and store carbon dioxide in the most efficient and sustainable way. Whether pumping it into giant rocks, keeping it underground, or finding a safe way to inject it into aquifers under the sea bed, CCS appears to be here to stay, as part of an international strategy to reach net-zero.  

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK. More