Tag Archives: carbon capture

CCS, the cost, the risk, and the law of unintended consequences

When the Alberta government announced last week that it would be handing over $745 million to Shell Canada so it could move ahead with its Quest commercial-scale CCS project, and when the federal government said it would chip in another $120 million, it didn’t sit well with environmental and energy think-tank The Pembina Institute.

It’s not that Pembina is against developing this technology. What it doesn’t particularly like, and I can’t help but agree, is the fact that the Alberta and federal governments’ are covering two-thirds of the cost for this $1.35 billion project, which will be designed to capture CO2 from the steam methane units at the Scotford Upgrader in Fort Saskatchewan. It’s part of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project, a joint venture among Shell (60 per cent), Chevron Canada (20 per cent) and Marathon Oil Sands (20 per cent).

Why, Pembina asks, are taxpayers covering the majority of a project’s costs when the companies benefitting from this public freebie are some of the most profitable companies in the country? Pembina is also opposed to the governments being “singularly focused” on end-of-pipe technologies, such as CCS, at the expense of investments in technologies and energy sources that reduce or altogether eliminate carbon emissions at the front of the pipe — renewables, energy efficiency, etc…

Rather than carry the load for the private sector, the government should be moving quickly to establish a cap-and-trade regime that would put a sufficient price on carbon, Pembina argues. Ultimately, polluters should cover the whole cost of CCS deployment and that will only happen when they factor in the cost of not doing so once carbon pricing hits their bottom line. Pembina also argues that the government shouldn’t be so narrowly focused on CCS that it ignores the much broader, and less risky opportunities out there. Continue reading CCS, the cost, the risk, and the law of unintended consequences

How to monitor leaks from underground carbon storage? Use bees, of course

I came across this press release from the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory that talks about a “novel” way to monitor whether carbon dioxide is leaking from underground storage sites used for CCS applications.

Researchers co-injected carbion dioxide and chemical tracers into an underground storage site. The tracer makes it possible to differentiate CO2 from the experiment from naturally occurring CO2. They then placed bee hives about 150 metres upwind and downwind of the site, where CO2 from underground was intentionally released as part of the experiment. The idea is that pollen from surrounding flowers would collect the CO2 and be marked by the tracer. As bees gather the pollen, they bring it back to their hives, where researchers collect samples for analysis. If there’s no tracer, there’s presumably no leak.

While a novel idea, I’m not sure I’m comforted by the idea of having bees used to track CO2 leaks over hundreds of years. Also, I wonder if there ever was a major leak whether it would just kill the bees — that to me, is a pretty good sign that something is wrong. Problem is, it would also kill the humans in the area. As a way to pre-test the ability of a site to hold CO2, however, this could be one approach worth employing.

Carbon storage might not be so permanent

Okay, as far as the concept of carbon capture and storage goes,  the idea — technologically — is intriguing. What many readers of this blog don’t like is how the industry talks about this technology like it’s here today so, hell, let’s drill for even more oil and burn more coal. We’re a decade away from seeing even just a small number of large-scale CCS projects in operation, so talk today of coal plants or oil-sand operations being “CCS-ready” is nothing more than greenwashing. I would imagine most people don’t mind the Canadian government supporting R&D into CCS, but what they perhaps don’t like is that the investment is being made to the exclusion of everything else. Why, it’s reasonable to ask, take a silver-bullet approach to a technology that’s a decade away? Would it not be better to balance it with near-term measures and investment in technologies that are here today?

But let’s assume, a decade out, that all the promise of CCS pans out. Let’s assume it takes hold, that a vast network of pipelines is built, that we’re certain sequestration sites won’t leak, and that the percentage of CO2 we can capture from coal plants and industrial sites continues to improve. Let’s assume that two decades out we start to see a number of acquifers and old oil fields filled to capacity with CO2 and, finally, capped shut.

Think those storage sites will be forever permanent? Think again. Continue reading Carbon storage might not be so permanent

Capturing carbon out of thin air?

Prof. David Keith, a well-respected climate-change scientist from the University of Calgary, believes it’s possible to design a machine that can snatch carbon dioxide out of ambient air. In fact, he knows it can be done — he has built the machine to do it. Now the challenge is to scale it up and make it more economical.

Keith and a team at the university announced this past week what he admits comes across as “absurd,” but after years of study and experimentation his efforts are paying off. The team has demonstrated the capture of CO2 directly from the air using less than 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity per ton of carbon dioxide. It means the electricity from a coal-fired plant could be used to capture 10 times as much CO2 as the power plant itself emitted. Continue reading Capturing carbon out of thin air?