Captain Carbon Sequester

Captain Carbon Sequester

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Death of Capt Carbon Sequester

We are sorry to formally announce the death of Capt. Carbon Sequester.  He passed away late last night after sucking on the tailpipe of an idling car that some irresponsible person left running in an attempt to filter the carbon emissions through his body.  After several minutes of mouth-to-tailpipe, he had fallen unconscious and later was determined dead.  We give great thanks for his concerns about the environment and hope others will do their best to preserve our great land..... with common sense of course.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Has the world's largest carbon-capture project sprung a leak?

That was the charge placed earlier this year by Jane and Cameron Kerr.  The Kerr's are a Canadian couple who live near the Weyburn oil field in Saskatchewan.  The Weyburn field is responsible for nearly 16 million metric tons of compressed carbon dioxide that have been pumped into a reservoir deep underground for permanent storage, since early 2000.  At a news conference, the couple revealed a report by a geological consulting firm that appeared to link elevated levels of carbon dioxide on their property to gas from the reservoir.  Addressing the Canadian news media, they described a pond on their property “fizzing like soda pop,” and mysterious late-night explosions.  They also stated waking up to the discovery of dead animals that appeared to be asphyxiated.  They declared that they had abandoned the property out of fear for their health.

The entire story has postulated questions among the interested whether the entire prospect of storing carbon dioxide underground was unworkable.  “What started as a series of worrisome problems on a rural Saskatchewan property has now raised serious questions about the safety of carbon sequestration and storage, a technology that has drawn billions in spending from governments and industry, which have promoted it as a salve to Canada’s growth in greenhouse-gas emissions,” an article in The Globe and Mail newspaper said.  Not so fast, some top geologists say.  Sally Benson, a geologist at Stanford University, described the report, by Paul Lafleur, president of Petro-Find Geochem, a Saskatoon-based geological consulting firm, as far from comprehensive and said that other causes unconnected to the Weyburn project could be the source of the Kerrs’ problems.  “It’s a very short report and it’s a very complex issue,” Dr. Benson said.  Susan D. Hovorka, a geologist at the University of Texas at Austin, went further, saying that Mr. Fleur’s declarations that a firm link had been found between carbon dioxide on the Kerrs’ property and the storage project were “misleading.”  “He may be certain, but he’s wrong about his certainty,” Dr. Hovorka said. “His confidence is not justified by the data.”

The Petroleum Research Technology Center, a Saskatchewan-based research group overseeing the Weyburn project, has also issued a report strongly rebutting the consultant’s report.  An independent investigation of the Kerr property has already been proposed by IPAC-CO2, a carbon-storage research institute, and both Cenovus and a lawyer for the Kerr family have signaled their approval.  “It certainly warrants looking into,” Dr. Benson said. “If there’s damage occurring, a remedy should be made.”

Though the results of this story are still inconclusive, it brings some more attention to the CCS scene.  An interesting quote I saw last week kind of got my attention and made me want to include it in this post.  It went along these lines, "Attention, no matter what type, is still attention."  This might not be the type of attention CCS is looking for, but maybe at this point CCS will take any attention it can get.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Relating CCS and Fukushima

In a recent article, The Nuclear Effect on Carbon Capture Plans, by Alessandra Migliaccio and Jeremy van Loon, the authors explore the idea that Fukushima could speed up the process of CCS.  They present the fact that "Germany halted 25 percent of its nuclear capacity and may close its oldest plants permanently after the Green party surged in Mar. 27 state elections. Switzerland shelved plans for new reactors, the U.K. said it may delay plans, and Italy is holding off on its newly launched nuclear program," as evidence that European countries may now try harder to accelerate the development of energy production that cuts down on carbon emissions.

Currently, the UK government allocates the most money towards funding projects on carbon capture and storage.  Its 10.5 billion dollars is more than the United States (5.1 billion) and Canada (4.9 billion) combined.  Though some funding is there, the pace of the projects has been slow, and even though 10.5 billion is a sizeable sum of money, cost is still a problem.  ''Capturing carbon is really expensive,'' says Age Kristensen, vice-president of technology at Statoil in Calgary. ''It's just not economic.'' Statoil is the world's largest CCS operator, with three projects in Europe and Africa. Its Salah (Algeria) project injects about one million tons of carbon dioxide a year below the Saharan desert, using solvents to separate carbon from natural gas.

Sauro Pasini, head of Enel's research and development department, says CCS testing seeks cheaper, more efficient ways to clean emissions and cut costs from about €90 per captured ton of CO2 to about €45 a ton or less, still far higher than the current €16 a ton for carbon permits trading in Europe.  CCS skeptics such as Carlo Stagnaro, a researcher at think tank Istituto Bruno Leoni, say the cost of CCS needs to be €20 or €30 for it to be economically viable. "Coal is the cheapest energy source ... and what do we do? We make it the most expensive by spending loads on cleaning it up. ... We could spend the money on other things, on safer nuclear," he says.

The article then goes on to state that coal demand is seen as rising as much as 20% by the year 2020.  That is one reason CCS might be worth continuing they speculate.  They state the bottom line of the article is that efforts to capture and store carbon emissions while costly, may gain momentum after the Fukushima disaster. 

While this may be true, they are acknowleding the extremely high cost.  They communicate only a speculation that frames the issue for the expansion of CCS.  Overall this article is hopeful with respect to CCS, but does not correlate any hard information one way or the other.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Yeah... I can eat a few more pieces

The third piece of the carbon cake deals with pipelines, compressing the carbon and finally sending it into the reservoirs.  We have theoretically built the expensive pipelines at this point and are pumping the captured CO2 to the injection site.  I don't want to talk about pipelines too much, but there is always the possibility of leaks and degradation.  Once a pipeline is built, it will hopefully last a long time and not require too much maintenance.  Historically, long pipelines have held up pretty well, but eventually all require some maintenance.  If the pipeline is left unattended or not properly analyzed often major problems can occur. 

One example is the Alaskan pipeline.  In an article by the New York Times in 2006, oil spill raises concerns on pipeline maintenance, our good friend BP was accused of improperly maintaining the pipeline.  This negligence resulted in over 200,000 gallons of crude being spilled.  BP denied that it was trying to cut costs by reducing the maintenance schedule to the pipeline, but company workers were recorded as advising BP to keep up the maintenance on several occasions.  It was said afterward that "we know that this could have been prevented," by Marc Kovac, a United Steelworkers Union rep which represents workers at the BP facility. 

Back to compressing the carbon dioxide though.  Unfortunately, capturing CO2 via CCS is energy intensive due to thermal energy requirements, and compressing the CO2 only adds to this extra cost.  We already established that nearly 25% of the energy produced from coal is used in the operating and capturing process, and after combining this with the additional transportation and compression costs, the amount of energy consumed from original production is closer to 40%, yikes!

Getting the CO2 into the reservoir is actually not that difficult.  Drilling platforms are built with sufficient equipment to pump CO2 at controlled rates. 

The reservoirs themselves are actually the bigger problem.  Several coal plants exist very far distances from potential reservoirs and therefore fall out of the category for a potential CCS due to extra costs from transport.  Along with potential reservoirs, leaks are always the biggest concern.  Leaks of carbon dioxide could lead to harmful effects in the surrounding areas.  The largest recent disaster caused by CO2 occurred in Cameroon, central Africa.  A volcanic crater-lake known as Nyos belched bubbles of CO2 into the still night air and the gas settled around the lake's shore, where it killed 1800 people and countless thousands of animals.  Contaminating aquifers also ranks high on the list of potential risks.  Granted this was not linked to CCS, but it shows the potential ramifications.

One of the main things that has been holding CCS back is the government.  Are they doing this on purpose or are there deeper political agendas at hand?  Get ready for some more cake.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Cake Continued

Hmm... that piece of cake tasted a little funny, let's try another piece.  Lol, sorry I must be hungry all this cake talk.....  In the book The Weather Makers, by Tim Flannery, a book about engineering solutions to global warming, another problem holding back CCS is presented.  Tim points outthe question, once the CO2 is captured, how much is it going to cost to put it into a reservoir?  Ideally, the location would be as close as possible, yet in many potential locations for CCS around the world, the reservoirs reside several miles away.  Large costs are then inherited to build expensive pipelines.

Flannery presents an example of some problems associated with building pipelines.  If we assume that some plants are built and the CO2 is captured, for every tonne of anthracite [coal] burned, 3.7 tonnes of CO2 is generated.  If this voluminous waste could be pumped back into the ground below the power station it would not matter as much, but the rocks that produce coal are not often useful for storing CO2, which means that the gas much be transported.  In the case of Australia's Hunter Valley coal mines, it needs to be conveyed over Australia's Great Dividing Range and hundreds of kilometres to the west. [pipelines cost about $1 million per mile, more when terrain is rough and uneven.]  There are also many risks involved with installing a pipeline and depositing the transported carbon.  Tomorrow's piece of the carbon cake will touch on these topics.

Often, private investments cannot cover the fees and expenses associated with building these pipelines.  In this light, several potential locations for CCS become unusable without government aid.  The government aid to back a project of this magnitude is also hard to come by.  Several cases have went up for review and several projects have been put on hold or not given the go ahead.  This will be examined in following posts.

Hopefully in the future after some of these problems are introduced, the solutions can be explored in this blog.  In some cases investigation of the solutions prove that some solutions contain big problems themselves, unfortunately. 

Stay tuned as we attempt to eat the whole cake... we are fat Americans afterall. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Have your carbon cake and eat it too!..... not quite

Carbon sequestration seems like a good deal.  Have your carbon cake and eat it too.  What a deal right? In principle you capture CO2 emissions at the source before they are released into the atmosphere, compress them until they become liquid and then inject them in deep underground holes.  What could be simpler?  It certainly sounds like a good tool to fight global warming while enjoying the Earth's huge fossil fuel reserves.

I used to think that it would indeed be one of the many solutions used to save ourselves from catastrophic climate change, but not anymore.  In fact, I now think that it might be a counter-productive red herring in most cases.  What has made me change my mind?  A series of problems that are incurred along the whole process of CCS. Read on, please.

One of the biggest problems with the idea of CCS is capturing the carbon itself.  One of the main ways of executing this capture takes place in the smokestacks of coal plants. 

The stream of CO2 emitted from a smokestack is relatively dilute though, making CO2 capture time consuming and unrealistic.  Also, the coal industry has staked its future on a new process known as coal gasification.  These new power plants resemble chemical works more than conventional coal-fired power plants.  In them, water and oxygen are mixed with the coal to create carbon monoxide and hydrogen.  The hydrogen is used as a fuel source, while the carbon monoxide is converted to a concentrated stream of CO2.  These plants are not cheap to run: around one-quarter of the energy they produce is consumed just in keeping them operating.  All indications suggest that building them on a commercial scale will be extremely expensive and that it will take decades to make a significant contribution to power production.  So.... about 25% of the energy they make is used just to keep them operating, they are more expensive, and it will take decades before they make a significant contribution.....Hmmmm. 

The problems continue... stay tuned for another major problem in tomorrow's blog entry