Guest blog from Indira Mann, Communications & Knowledge Exchange Executive, SCCS
It could well be the turning point our planet needs, but the Paris climate talks at the end of this month will struggle to achieve their stated intention – a meaningful climate change agreement by world leaders – unless more than five nations include or even consider Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as part of a concerted approach to tackling carbon emissions.
The importance of CCS as a means of arresting global warming cannot be downplayed. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself has stated that, without its large-scale deployment, the world will fail to keep a global temperature increase to within 2°C. A recent report by the Global CCS Institute lists 22 large-scale CCS projects, either already operating or getting very close, which prove to a stubbornly sceptical world that the technology works and can be deployed by many more countries right now. And if cost is still a perceived barrier, analysis by the International Energy Agency suggests that CCS will actually reduce decarbonisation costs further down the road.
So if we are serious about averting dangerous climate change and the technology exists, what might governments, regulators and potential project developers still need? Two high-level joint industry projects, led by the SCCS research partnership with support from industry and government, sought to provide some of the answers. Here are a few of our findings.
CO2MultiStore: more than one project operator can use the same CO2 storage site
Rocks deep below the North Sea have the potential to store 100 years’ worth of carbon emissions captured from the flue gases and facilities of large emitters across Europe. A highly trained and knowledgeable oil and gas workforce, and an infrastructure facing obsolescence, could also be redeployed as part of an offshore CCS industry. But this resource must be managed regionally if it is to be effective and safe, so the CO2MultiStore partners sought to find out whether more than one operator could use a single, extensive CO2 storage formation at the same time.
It’s a reasonable line of enquiry if we are to make the most of the North Sea basin’s CO2 storage potential. And what the project found is useful not just for prospective site operators but also for the investors and regulators.
Using a UK North Sea case study – the Captain Sandstone, which lies more than a mile beneath the Moray Firth off north-east Scotland – the scientists predicted the performance of the rock when CO2 is injected at two points over three decades. An animation created as part of the project explains the science in non-technical terms and has been a useful tool for disseminating the project’s results.
The project partners concluded that the volume of CO2 securely and permanently stored within a single formation is significantly enhanced by operating two or more injection sites. The findings also suggest that Captain – just one of a number of viable sandstone storage sites beneath the North Sea basin – could store at least 360 Million tonnes (Mt) of CO₂ in just one sixth of its area by the operation of two sites when the greenhouse gas is injected at a rate of between 6 Mt and 12 Mt each year over three decades.
Overall, the findings could help to unlock an immense CO₂ storage resource underlying all sectors of the North Sea for the storage of Europe’s carbon emissions. They will help the UK plan and manage its storage asset. And in global terms, generic learning from the project will be invaluable to prospective site operators worldwide.
Accelerating CO2 storage through North Sea enhanced oil recovery
Enhancing yields from mature oilfields as a route to decarbonisation may seem counter intuitive. However, the carbon balance resulting from using CO2 for enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR) in the UK North Sea might surprise you. This was just one of the issues studied by the CO2-EOR joint industry project, which looked at factors of concern to project developers, who are considering linking CCS projects on power plants and industry with North Sea CO2-EOR.
The final report, resulting from two intensive phases of research, suggests that a synergy between CO₂-EOR and CCS could be the driver for developing both technologies in the UK side by side. This in turn could bring added value to the wider UK economy, such as extending the producing life of the North Sea, providing jobs and creating additional tax revenues. When the study was unveiled to policy makers and industry in London, Brussels and Aberdeen in June, the authors argued that North Sea CO2-EOR could well provide the most cost-effective way for the UK to meet its decarbonisation targets as it transitions to a fully low-carbon economy by 2030.
According to the study, this CO₂-EOR route could achieve two very desirable outcomes. Firstly, a business demand for CO2 could lead to the construction of more CO₂ capture projects, which would continue to bring down the cost of the technology and provide cheaper low-carbon electricity. Secondly – and this is key – the accelerated deployment of CO2-EOR could lead to more CO₂ being abated more quickly than by any other route. And this includes emissions from the additional oil produced. Interesting, isn’t it?
Last month, SCCS helped to deliver an open letter to the UNFCCC from an international group of scientists from five continents, who gave reassurance – backed up by extensive research – that the geological storage of CO₂ is both safe and secure. Our planet has reached crisis point and world leaders have finally accepted the need for action. Together with results from collaborative projects such as CO2MultiStore and CO2-EOR, and a spectrum of research across the CCS chain, we will continue to provide reassurance in the technology and underline the urgency of its deployment.
Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage (SCCS) is an independent academic and applied research partnership of British Geological Survey, Heriot-Watt University, the University of Aberdeen, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde. Its researchers are engaged in high-level CCS research as well as joint projects with industry to support the development and commercialisation of CCS as a climate change mitigation technology.
About the author
Indira Mann is responsible for delivering the SCCS partnership’s communications strategy, raising awareness of its work, promoting research and expertise and creating opportunities for knowledge exchange between SCCS and its stakeholder networks. Her role includes public and media engagement.