Energy and Environment

A new impulse: Carbon capture and storage

Dr Asunción Aranda of the Institute for Energy Technology in Norway outlines in this article a new impulse for CO2 capture, utilisation and storage.
A new impulse: Carbon capture and storage
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Aranda, Asunción

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Image above: Dr Saima Sultana Kazi (left) and Dr Anita Skulimowska (right) work in development of innovative cost-effective materials for CO2 capture technologies. Development of cost-effective innovative materials is an important part of IFE's research on CO2 capture technologies.

This article was first published in Pan European Networks – Government.

Considerable human and economic efforts have been dedicated to diminishing the human impact on climate since the Rio Convention in 1992, where today’s UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) finds its roots. Since then, related political and economic programmes, social awareness and scientific advances have evolved unevenly. Nevertheless, the imminent need to reduce human impact is now generally accepted, and it relates not only to the reduction of specific gas emissions, but to the sustainable use of natural resources in a broader perspective. The last Conference of the Parties (COP21), with its Paris Agreement, brings new impulse to previous efforts, and offers a new opportunity to set ambitious goals for the 21st Century. Whilst the world awaits ratification by all the members, the sense of political and social responsibility has been reactivated in the public debate.

Research for a better futurePhoto: Mona Lunde Ramstad, IFE

Along with climate concerns, the need for innovative technologies has evolved over time. Conceptual goals need to be materialised into realistic and cost-effective solutions. Research has adapted over decades to the needs of society – industry and citizens – to develop solutions to present and foreseen technical challenges. Through a broad scientific expertise covering, amongst other things, physics, chemistry, engineering and geology, the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) conducts research with the focus on technological innovation for industrial applications. One of IFE’s overall objectives is to provide technologies for more climate-friendly energy systems by developing renewable energy technologies, efficient energy use and safe and cost-effective CO2 management.

Cutting-edge CO2 capture technologies

In the 2020 and 2030 climate energy packages, the EU committed to lower greenhouse gas emissions: 20% by 2020 and 40% by 2030, with respect to 1990 levels. It is inherent to these goals that CO2 capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) will play a major role since it allows the use of existing fossil fuel reserves whilst reducing CO2 emissions. Regarding CO2 capture, technology validation has been performed at large scale for solvent-based technologies, and a few of them can be applied at commercial scale in the short term. But their investment and operation costs, as well as their associated energy efficiency penalties, still need further reductions to envisage a wide deployment of CO2 capture facilities at full scale.

Therefore, more intensive technology development is required to reduce the cost and the energy consumption of capture processes, both for power plants and for energy intensive industries such as cement, steel, ferro-alloys and refineries.

Julien Meyer, senior researcher (left) and Dr Jean Patrick Pinheiro, senior engineer (right), in front of the Sorption Enhanced Methane Reforming (SER) pilot prototype, designed and commissioned by IFE at HyNor Lillestrøm test centre.Julien Meyer, senior researcher (left), and Dr Jean Patrick Pinheiro, senior engineer (right), on front of the Sorption Enhanced Methane Reforming (SER) pilot prototype, designed and commissioned by IFE at HyNor Lillestrøm test centre. Photo: Mona Lunde Ramstad, IFE.

Today, there is no unique technology that solves the CO2 capture challenge at the best economics for all industrial sectors in any location. To achieve the necessary CO2 emission reductions within the set timeframe, different technologies need to be fully developed in a targeted, strategic way. Technology readiness levels vary for oxy-combustion, pre and post-combustion capture configurations, and for different types of fuels (gaseous, solid, fossil, renewable). To a different extent, all these routes definitely need additional technological developments to be widely implemented at industrial scale.

Regarding CO2 capture, the R&D work carried out in the Environmental Technology Department at IFE has focused on high temperature capture technologies due to the significant energy efficiency that can be achieved. These technologies include process intensification and require new high performance materials and devices. The department core expertise in this field is centred on advanced material science and innovative process design. The R&D work carried out in the past 15 years has resulted in the development of calcium oxide-based (CaO) high temperature solid CO2 sorbents for applications in post or pre-combustion capture like calcium looping or sorption-enhanced reforming (SER) processes, and of metal oxide-based solid oxygen carriers for chemical looping combustion or gasification processes.

As an example, the activity related to CaO sorbents has supported the development at IFE of an emerging reforming technology with integrated CO2 capture called sorption-enhanced reforming, where material science combined with innovative process design has resulted in the construction and test of a small pilot prototype (10Nm3/h hydrogen) installed at the HyNor Lillestrøm renewable hydrogen test centre, in Lillestrøm, Norway. In addition, we design and develop innovative processes for CO2 utilisation in various industries (e.g. a patented process for production of alumina from alternative minerals with CO2 utilisation).

We believe that these R&D efforts should be continued and promoted in European R&D programmes, especially in areas where real breakthroughs can be achieved, such as medium and high temperature solid CO2 sorbents for use in post-combustion capture (calcium looping) or pre-combustion capture (SER processes), solid oxygen carriers for high temperature chemical looping processes (combustion, gasification and oxygen generation), ceramic materials for use in high temperature oxygen membranes, molten salts materials for high temperature capture, and innovative systems for high temperature heat transfer.

It is also necessary to promote a broader approach to tackle global sustainability, e.g. by increasing efforts on low cost and largely available raw materials, alternative production methods, combination with renewables where possible, improved industrial processes, etc. Therefore, the design and development of processes with low environmental impact should be prioritised by supporting their validation throughout their complete R&D timeline (from laboratory scale to prototype and pilot testing).

Large scale storage: CO2 underground

Co-ordinated efforts for the whole CO2 chain are necessary to implement CCUS in reality. Several CO2 transport aspects are still to be solved (infrastructure optimisation, corrosion issues, etc.) and CO2 utilisation is expected to contribute to reduce emissions, though to a limited extent. IFE actively contributes to the development of both areas, which are an important part of the solution for global warming. Meanwhile, the aim of most CCS industrial facilities will be safe storage of large amounts of CO2 for thousands of years. Thus, adequate geomechanical assessment of long-term reservoir behaviour is key to launch large scale CCS projects. Geomechanical issues arising in existing CO2 pilot projects, such as microseismicity and formation of channels in the reservoirs, demonstrate that current simulation tools are not fully developed to accurately predict reservoir processes. Therefore, there is a clear need for a new generation of geomechanical models for long-term, large scale CO2 injection processes that can emulate the essential physics of the process by taking advantage of state-of-the-art, high performance computing. IFE works in the development of such tools, based on the most recent findings from laboratory studies and field pilot facilities. Our tools have focus on complex rock-fluid interaction processes and aim to bridge the gap between laboratory and field scales on one hand, and between short-term observations and long-term predictions on the other hand.We provide tailor-made solutions for geomechanical issues associated with CO2 injection, such as surface uplift, induced seismicity and fluid flow into preferential pathways.

Reservoir monitoring and characterisation is another important aspect of geological CO2 storage. Subsurface CO2 injection can pose risks of leakage or even cap rock failure if it is not implemented correctly. Thus, monitoring of CO2 storage is essential to verify CO2 injection and to validate models. Misinterpreted pressure management may result in rapid deformation, often manifested as microearthquakes or even larger magnitude earthquakes. To improve interpretation of monitoring results there is a need for tighter integration of combined geophysical, geochemical and microseismic reservoir monitoring on one hand, and coupled geomechanical/reservoir modelling on the other. This is another active direction of our current research. The combination of reservoir modelling tools with tracer technology and advanced analytical tools provides valuable synergies between models development and their validation with real data. For our research, we either use natural isotopes or develop custom-based artificial tracers for monitoring CO2 leakage. All these tools combined aim at early detection of deformations and leakages and a cost-effective monitoring strategy for safe CO2 storage.

It is therefore of key importance to ensure the revitalisation and improvement of the mechanisms needed to implement CCUS global goals in a more effective and agile manner. This requires reinforcing governmental commitment and the collaboration frameworks that connect politico-economic, industrial, scientific and societal levels.We are aware of the economic and human efforts needed, as we are convinced of the capacity of all the segments of society to face the climate challenge.

Co-authors: Julien Meyer (senior scientist and leader of the materials and process technology group) and Dr Viktoriya Yarushina (senior scientist and leader of the geo-processes group)