Where Has It Gone?: Carbon Capture/Storage

October 2012, Vol. 239 No. 10

Richard Nemec, Contributing Editor

Like the prodigy that everyone assumed one day would be a world-renowned virtuoso only to fade into obscurity, carbon capture and storage (CCS), the ultimate weapon of choice against climate change just a few years ago, seems also to have slipped into the background.

There are a myriad of reasons, but CCS isn’t really gone or forgotten, it is alive and well in a low-profile portfolio of small research/development and pre-commercialization projects, not to mention day-to-day enhanced oil recovery (EOR) that remains a staple in the oil patch.

One needs to look no further than a network of seven regional CCS organizations blanketing the nation under the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) support to see that there are still realistic visions of a breakthrough that will help redefine energy production along the lines of what hydraulic fracturing and shale gas and oil plays have contributed in recent years.

Operating for nearly a decade, the carbon sequestration regional partnerships have characterized and validated up to 20 small-scale geologic storage test locations. Now they are moving into a third phase, seeking to implement eight large-scale demonstration projects to prove long-term, effective and safe storage and use of CO-2.

DOE Partnerships  
Two of the DOE partnerships have begun CO-2 injections while a third one has indicated it is ready to inject, according to an official connected with the regional programs.

* Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium, hosted by the Archer Daniels Midland Ethanol Production Facility in Decatur, IL began in November 2011 to inject CO-2, targeting 1 million metric tons of CO-2 for capture from the facility. It is being injected into the Mt. Simon Sandstone, a saline reservoir, at about 7,000-foot depths for what is expected to be a period running through 2014.

* Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership dates back to 2009 when it began early test injections pointing toward 1.4 million metric tons of CO-2 being captured from the nearby Jackson Dome, a naturally occurring source of the gas. This CO-2 is transported via a Denbury Resources pipeline to an oilfield in Cranfield, Mississippi.

* The Southeast partnership has a second project calling for the injection of 100,000-300,000 metric tons of CO-2 into another saline formation in Citronelle oilfield in Alabama during a two- to three-year period, drawing the CO-2 from a flue gas capture unit on a Southern Company utility power plant that became operational in 2011. The CO-2 is to be transported in a new 12-mile pipeline once the project is approved for injection by Alabama’s Department of Environmental Management.

For now, the engineers and researchers remind listeners that CCS is an “emerging technology.” But skeptics say it has been in this state about as long as fuel cell technology has been around with all its potential as a noncombustion form of creating electricity. CCS supporters, however, see corners still to be turned and barriers to eventually be cleared in the arcane quest to corral more carbon emissions.

Late in 2011 in the Sacramento Basin in Northern California, a study team that is part of WESTCARB, one of DOE’s regional CCS partners, drilled a “stratigraphic” well to collect detailed underground rock formation data to help characterize the subsurface potential for storing carbon dioxide (CO-2) in regionally extensive geologic formations in the southeast corner of the basin north of California’s capital. It is dubbed the “Citizen Green Well,” drilled directionally to a vertical depth of 6,900 feet.

The arcane science of stratigraphy ultimately determines the porosity, permeability and ability to track the CO-2 underground and keep it from leaking into the atmosphere. WESTCARB researchers reported that they found an excellent storage capacity for the Citizen Green well site.

This is part of a depleted natural gas field, King Island, of which there are many in the Sacramento Valley. It is close to various industrial plants and electric generation sources of CO-2, and it is intended to help CO-2 emitters in the region to assess their geologic storage option. The CCS virtuoso is still performing, albeit out of the limelight.

“If you’re drilling just to inject the CO-2 it is no different than any oil or gas well,” said Richard Myhre, a vice president with Bevilacqua-Knight Inc. (BKi) working closely with California energy officials. “It is the same kind of rig, mud loggers, etc. all the same. When we do the research wells, we do more coring and a few other things that someone just going out looking for oil and gas would do a little differently, but the equipment is basically the same.”

Noting the R&D sector for CCS has grown significantly during the last decade, Oakland, CA-based engineer and CCS consultant Myhre said “the technology is poised for scale-up.” He cited a lot of large opportunities, including R&D projects, such as by Alstom involving chilled ammonia, and others on advanced amine solvents involving Fluor, MHI, Aker Clean Carbon, and HTC Purenergy.

“The largest of these projects is currently being demonstrated at about 25-MW equivalent scale for power plant flue gas capture at atmospheric pressure,” Myhre said. The next logical step: demonstrations at 150-200 MW size plants, he said.

As yet no coal-based power plants capture CO-2 on a commercial scale, Myhre acknowledged, but there are some of what he calls “first-of-a-kind commercial demonstrations” in California, Texas and Mississippi. All three are proposed integrated gasification combined cycle generation (IGCC) plants involving syngas and CCS used in EOR operations in nearby working oilfields.
More importantly, for capture/storage advocates, are the variety of commercial-scale CCS coal-based projects taking place outside the United States in Canada, Europe and elsewhere. There is also the Great Plains substitute natural gas-from-coal plant in North Dakota involving CCS in which the captured CO-2 is being used in EOR in Saskatchewan, Canada.
       
“Sale of captured CO-2 for EOR is expected to grow and boost U.S. and Canadian EOR production,” Myhre said.

Industry sources are attributing the change in focus centering on CCS tied to EOR to last year’s naming of a new assistant DOE secretary for fossil energy, Charles McConnell. He told a congressional subcommittee for the House Appropriations Committee that his part of the energy department is seeking to create technology-based policy options that can help the nation’s economy, environment and security.

DOE’s fossil energy programs now are all about demonstrations of a variety of CO-2 capture and storage approaches. McConnell talked about “cross-cutting” research that bridges fundamental science and engineering development.

“These demonstrations are focused on using a range of capture technologies and storing CO-2 in a variety of geologic formations, including EOR,” McConnell said. “While EOR is a known production method that has been in commercial use for decades, it catalyzes the demonstration of CCS technology in some cases, and thereby helps in the areas of research that need the most attention.”

Noting that the safety and effectiveness of the technologies must be ensured, McConnell said that CCS projects involving EOR will be subjected to what he called rigorous monitoring, verification and accounting procedures and technologies.

Myhre stressed that four active CCS projects in Canada and Europe provide good insights on monitoring for U.S.-based projects. While the foreign-based demonstrations may not have a lot to offer in terms of advances in carbon capturing, they have each been doing a lot of CO-2 injection for a number of years, and that’s helpful, he said.

“It is the monitoring part of these projects that is the broadly transferrable part of the learning curve,” Myhre said. “That’s the value of proving you can do (the capture and storage) without environmental harm.” The North Dakota syngas project piping large amounts of CO-2 to Canadian oilfields is being widely studied from a variety of aspects, he said.

Eventually there is a whole new North American infrastructure system that will be needed in the long term (50-80 years) if CCS is going to become a major factor in the energy/environmental landscape. CO-2 travels at higher pressures – 2,200-2,700 psi – and in pipes that require different metallurgy.

“People liken the infrastructure for CCS at full commercial scale in 50-80 years to today’s gas transmission pipeline system, but it is not the same types of pipelines, maximum allowable operating pressures, and the metallurgy is different,” Myhre said. “You can’t have a wholesale conversion of the existing pipelines to CO-2; it doesn’t work that way.”

While McConnell assured Congress in his March testimony that natural gas technology – particularly in the area of hydraulic fracturing – and various security-related fossil fuel issues will get equal amounts of attention, carbon capture will be an important part of the mix. Maximizing the use of the nation’s abundant fossil energy resources is part of how the DOE intends to address the closely related issues of energy and environmental security, he told the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water.

More recently, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead returned from China with renewed encouragement to re-invigorate clean coal efforts in his state that would be tied to CCS.         

His first-hand briefing from GE representatives in China sparked Mead’s renewed interest in light of the past partnership between GE and the University of Wyoming for the High Plains gasification project that would use Powder River Basin coal.

“One of the things I learned was that GE has a number of gasification projects that are already up in China,” Mead said. And they have more on the drawing board.

“Implications for Wyoming are: (1) we can certainly learn from what has been done in China; (2) we know it is doable, and (3) when we look at the fact that China has in excess of 100 of these gasification plants operating or in development, we know it can be done on a big scale, and we look forward to that opportunity in Wyoming.”

Mead’s comments point to both the promise and the problems surrounding CCS, and the current trend to look to enhanced oil recovery as the panacea for creating a scalable amount of commercially viable projects that will capture carbon emissions.

“Ultimately, we have to solve the problem of this carbon going up in the atmosphere,” Myhre said. “It is going to be one of the major issues of the 21st century. Addressing it has to happen sooner or later, but what is happening is that it will be later [after an international treaty and new U.S. energy policy legislation].”

Myhre suggested that lack of national climate change legislation placing a value on capturing and storing CO-2 – the economics – is the greatest barrier to CCS in the United States. CCS at power plants is a second barrier. However, he is convinced some ongoing research that he considers extensive is going to yield cost-saving results as technologies mature and the lessons learned are incorporated in future projects closer to full commercialization.

The near- and interim-term prospects are handled pretty much through EOR’s use of the CO-2, but the long-term questions are unanswered regarding post-oil production when the CO-2 is still lying underground. Federal rules and regulations are still to be worked out, and there are no clear incentives or directives for oilfield operators to follow.

“By 2020, early commercial projects may be coming online, but the overall market size for CCS at that point will still be a small fraction of its ultimate potential,” Myhre said. Private-sector companies, such as Schlumberger Carbon Services, have developed CCS service units, but they are not projecting what the future market size might be.

“At the scale needed to achieve global greenhouse (GHG) gas reduction goals, the infrastructure is expected to be on par with that of the current gas industry,” Myhre said. “The time frame for that is more like 2050 – not 2020!”

The North American CCS association’s Moore pointed out that a sticking point in CCS has been the difficulty in clearly quantifying the long-term risk and liability of the CO-2 once it is sequestered. A ruling in Indiana in mid-2012 for a massive, multibillion-dollar gasification and CO-2 capture and storage project may bring some clarity to a murky area.

In Indiana, the state’s Department of Environmental Management issued a final air quality permit for the project, Indiana Gasification LLC, a development proposed by New York City-based Leucadia Holding Corp. 

Both in California because of its climate change law (AB 32) and in Indiana, Moore said there is a big interest in what he called “tagging” CCS projects to EOR, even though some experts say the opportunities to do this nationally are not as widespread as saline CO-2 storage opportunities. “In the past it [EOR] was the step-sister to CCS, but now it has become the tail that is wagging the dog.

“You have an obligation that could be decades long as the originator of the sequestered CO-2; that could have an “unlimited and unknown liability,” he said.

This is a problem for regulators and others trying to evaluate what the long-term cost and value of the risks might be. “Thus, finding third-party funding with those areas undefined has been problematic, so this Indiana decision might have alleviated that,” Moore said

There continue to be “gaps” in both the technology and the regulations regarding CCS, according to Alan Bland, a vice president at the Western Research Institute (WRI), a technology development center for private- and public-sector clients on energy, environmental and highway issues. Some of these gaps are between technologies for capture compared with those available for separating CO-2 from flue gas and also between those two and the liability issues related to the sequestration or storage sites. A major industry concern is the level of long-term stability of stored CO-2.

“At WRI, we’re conducting research and developing technologies to address carbon capture and storage,” said Bland, noting the center is looking at industry, power generation and EOR applications. Ultimately, WRI is looking for answers to the same questions reverberating elsewhere – breakthroughs in capturing, transporting and monitoring (underground) the CO-2.
                                    
Author
Richard Nemec
is West Coast Correspondent for P&GJ and can be reached at rnemec@ca.rr.com.

KMP Makes Progress On CO-2 Project

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP (KMP) continues to make progress on its previously announced $255 million expansion of its Doe Canyon Unit CO-2 source field in southwestern Colorado, which will increase capacity from 105 MMcf/d to 170 MMcf/d. 

In June, the company began construction on both primary and booster compression.  The primary compression is expected to be in service in the fourth quarter of 2013 and the booster compression is targeted to be completed in the second quarter of 2014.  KMP also plans to drill 19 more wells during the next 10 years, which will increase production from 105 MMcf/d to 170 MMcf/d.

In January, Kinder Morgan closed on a transaction to acquire the St. Johns CO-2 source field and related assets in Apache County, AZ and Catron County, NM.  Expected CO-2 production from St. Johns would be transported to the Permian Basin for use by customers in tertiary recovery.  Well testing and predevelopment activities are under way for this potential new source field.

In February 2009, the INGAA Foundation released an important study by ICF Consultants entitled Developing A Pipeline Infrastructure For CO-2 Capture and Storage: Issues And Challenges.

The study focused on the pipeline infrastructure requirements for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) in connection with compliance with mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The major conclusion was that while CCS technologies are relatively well defined, there remain technological challenges in the carbon capture and sequestration phases, and less so in transportation. Carbon capture is the most significant cost in the CCS process.

The study forecast that the amount of pipeline that will be needed to transport CO-2 will be between 15,000 miles and 66,000 miles by 2030, depending on how much CO-2 must be sequestered and the degree to which enhanced oil recovery (EOR) is involved. The upper end of the forecast range is of the same order of magnitude as the miles of existing U.S. crude oil pipelines and products pipelines.

While there are no significant barriers to building the forecasted pipeline mileage, the major challenges to implementing CCS are in public policy and regulation, the study noted. Because a CCS industry can evolve in several ways, public policy decisions must address key questions about industry structure, government support of early development, regulatory models, and operating rules.

Those issues need to be resolved before the necessary investments in a CCS pipeline system can be made, the study said, noting that little analytical work has focused on the pipeline system for transporting C-O2 from capture sites to storage sites, the study noted.