A legislative effort underway in the U.S. could usher in more carbon capture research, projects and infrastructure in hopes of reducing emissions.
The Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act, or USE IT Act (S. 2602), sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) aims to encourage carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS) projects that lower emissions and to improve the permitting process for CO2 capture and infrastructure projects. As part of the effort, technology prizes would also be awarded to selected projects that capture more than 10,000 tons of CO2 annually and can be deployed for less than $200 per ton of CO2 captured.
Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works heard testimony last week on the legislation, which is cosponsored by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).
The discussion is being held as more emphasis is put on reducing emissions globally: countries are trying to reach greenhouse gas emissions goals set in the 2015 Paris accord, oil and gas companies are working independently and jointly to lower emissions from their facilities, an initiative is in the works to launch a methane-detecting satellite into space within three years and shareholders are putting pressure on oil companies to keep emissions in check and regularly report on progress.
Mark Northam, executive director of the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources, spoke in favor of the legislation pointing out its benefits, which include CO2 EOR. Northam worked on the Sleipner CO2 the storage project offshore Norway from its inception. The facility, part of the Statoil-operated Sleipner gas development, captures about 1 million tonnes of CO2 annually, he said.
The legislation presented in the U.S. would provide a needed source of federal funding for CCUS-related research and the potential for the application of CCUS technologies, Northam said in testimony before the Senate committee. This includes CO2 EOR, which he called the “dominant customer” of CO2 captured in the U.S.
“The Rocky Mountain region—Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado and Montana—contains an estimated 4 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil using CO2 EOR,” Northam said. “CO2remains in high demand for EOR throughout Wyoming, so the USE IT Act holds promise in leveraging this commercial demand to advance CCUS technologies and projects. The existence of a ‘shovel-ready’ use for captured CO2 can serve as a bridge to other markets for those early-adopters of carbon capture technologies.”
In addition to having an administrator carry out a CO2 utilization R&D program, a nine-member direct air technology advisory board would be created to develop requirements for the technology competition. The legislation also calls for the creation of a task force charged with reviewing the deployment of projects and pipelines and identifying activities that transform CO2 into commercial value.
Noah Deich, founder and executive director for the Center for Carbon Removal, said the act would not only advance innovation but also job creation.
“Carbon use is the idea of taking waste carbon—be it from a power plant, an industrial facility like a cement or steel plant, or directly from the air—and using it to produce valuable products. Many companies have already begun developing carbon use processes for products including: building materials such as cements and carbon fiber, and hydrocarbon fuels and chemicals that are mined from the sky, not the ground,” Deich said in written testimony.
“Direct air capture technologies are innovative carbon capture systems that use clean energy to filter carbon from ambient air—not just smokestacks—much like a plant does via photosynthesis,” he added. “As a result, direct air capture systems can be integrated on-site at carbon utilization or underground carbon storage projects, opening new possibilities for innovative manufacturing and carbon waste disposal businesses.”
However, improvement is needed in terms of pipelines.
Julio Friedman of CarbonWrangler LLC pointed out some of today’s shortcomings: nearly all the current network of about 5,000 miles of CO2 pipelines are at capacity, most were built before 2003 and only a few cross state lines, leaving little access for Midcontinent states.
“Often, the permitting, construction and operational readiness of pipelines and storage sites determine the timeline for commercial projects, and the total project cost is sensitive to the time taken for these steps,” Friedman said. “Concern about ambiguities in process or delays in permitting directly affect the financial viability of projects and their ability to attract investors. In other words, those concerns are substantial barriers to financing.”
New policies clarifying timelines and requirements while defining the roles of players and limiting risk to potential CCUS developments could help maximize deployment and minimize waste, he said.
Feng Jiao, associate professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at the University of Delaware, said that carbon utilization is the key—with CO2 EOR for instance—although it requires significant investments for CO2 pipelines and infrastructure if the oil field is not near the CO2 facility.
The Petra Nova facility is a prime example. The project involves capturing CO2 from NRG Energy’s WA Parish plant in Fort Bend County, Texas, and delivering it via a 90-mile pipeline to the Hilcorp Energy Co.-operated West Ranch oil field, where it is used for EOR. The project’s cost was about $1 billion.
“To circumvent large capital investments in [a] centralized carbon capture facility and pipeline infrastructure, [the] distributed CCUS approach may be considered as an alternative strategy,” Jiao said. “In distributed CCUS, [a] carbon capture facility using technologies that are not constrained by the carbon point sources such as direct air capture can be built at locations where CO2 is utilized.” This makes smaller facilities feasible to match local CO2 demand.
Meanwhile, technology development efforts continue. Among these is CO2 electrolyzer technology.
“CO2 electrolyzer is an electricity-powered chemical reactor that produces valuable products using CO2 and water as feedstocks,” Jaio said, adding such products include chemicals like carbon monoxide, ethanol, ethylene and n-propanol. “The products from CO2 electrolyzers can be readily integrated into existing chemical plants for downstream fuel and fine chemical production.”
Companies developing CO2 electrolyzer technologies include majors such as Shell and Total and startup companies including CO2 Energy, Jaio said.
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