Energy companies are using carbon capture to reclaim environmental stability
Climate change is a huge threat to life on earth. Although growing electric energy consumption has been met with an increase in renewable alternatives, burning natural gases and fossil fuels is still required to meet demand. This creates harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that contribute to climate change, trapping solar energy in the atmosphere and raising the earth’s temperature.
The effects of global warming are abundantly clear, governments and companies are rapidly investing in sustainability programmes. Working on carbon capture and storage (CCS), which extracts CO2 from the atmosphere and stores it mainly in geological formations, is one way businesses can make a difference.
What projects have been undertaken to capture carbon before it damages the environment further, and which companies are behind them?
1. Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage
Plants and trees soak up CO2, but when they are converted into energy they release it back into the atmosphere. This month, British power company Drax announced the start of a Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECSS) pilot project to examine ways to negate this. The project, which is the first of its kind in Europe, aims to track the effectiveness of carbon capture from bioenergy sources. So far, Drax has converted three power plants into biomass plants which are fuelled by biomass pellets instead of oil. By the end of the year, a fourth facility will be converted. Looking at new ways to capture carbon could help to reduce the reliance of power companies on oil.
2. The Boundary Dam Carbon Capture Project
Completed in 2014, the Boundary Dam Carbon Capture Project was started by Canadian utility company SaskPower to respond to alarming emission levels. The project transformed an existing power station, enabling it to provide 120MW (megawatts) of electricity at the same time as reducing up to one million tonnes of CO2 per year. That’s the equivalent of taking 250,000 combustion engine cars off of the roads.
3. Allam Cycle power generation
NET Power, a partnership of 8 Rivers Capital, McDermott and Exelon, announced the first successful fire of a CO2 demonstration power plant based in Texas last month. After two years of work, the plant has proved to be a viable commercial option for low to no emission power generation. The plant is integrated with a 50MWth (megawatt thermal) combustor provided by Toshiba, which is fuelled by CO2. This method is called ‘Allam Cycle’, and rids almost all emissions from natural gas power generation. NET Power plans to set up more plants on a global scale.
4. The Weyburn-Midale CO2 Monitoring and Storage Project
The Weyburn-Midale CO2 Monitoring and Storage project began in 2000 to study CO2 injection into two depleted oilfields: Weyburn and Midale, in Canada. It was set up by an international scientific collaboration with the goal of researching the potential of carbon capture solutions. Approximately 6,500 tonnes of CO2 is injected into the Weyburn field each year, while the Midale field receives 2,000 tonnes. What’s more, injecting carbon into geological formations (in other words, rocks) actually helps to get more oil by increasing reservoir pressure and oil fluidity.
Carbon capture is something that corporations, governments and the academic community alike have a responsibility to develop. CCS projects are certainly nothing new, but they appear to be seeing a recent revival. Given that global land and ocean surface temperatures have risen consistently since the 19th century, this is just as well. The main barriers to carbon capture’s expansion largely surround cost and mentality. Carbon capture equipment and processes remain expensive, but new methods like Allam Cycle power generation and the possibility of deep ocean storage could help to widen the net. The above projects show that organisations and academic groups have made real progress. However, if carbon emissions targets are to be met, fully fledged commercial solutions need to become a priority for every energy company.
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