Carbon capture and clusters


Courtesy of Energy Institute (EI)

Carbon capture and storage (CCS ) announcements in 2013 were quiet – yet the award of funding to the White Rose project in early December was an encouraging sign that UK CCS momentum remains undeterred, explains Sam Botterill, CCS Technical Manager, Energy Institute.

Christmas did not only come early for the White Rose project, more commonly referred to as Drax Power’s CCS Project, but a windfall also came in the re-ignition of interest in a Humber and Teesside industrial network, known as the Tees Valley City Deal, which might have the capacity to link with a project going ahead at the White Rose site. Other potential projects including that of the Progressive Energy-led Teesside project and the 2Co Don Valley project are also nearby.

Meanwhile, there appears to be little news from the Goldeneye/Peterhead project to date, which continues to re-emerge as a CCS prospect, having formerly housed both the Longannet and the original DF1 projects before that. Although all projects are quite different, news on the latest incarnation is expected imminently.

Speculation notwithstanding, Drax always presented an interesting dimension as it has embraced the idea of burning biomass, as well as separately running a CCS project – thus showing itself to take one of the most advanced approaches to modern power production. It exemplifies the need for government funding for CCS projects, as without secure backing shareholders would be nervous.

Drax has taken its shareholders with it in this regard – the company has not seen any of the issues faced by BP when it publicly moved away from its core business of petroleum production. Lord Browne, now Chairman of Cuadrilla Resources, took BP to a ‘beyond petroleum’ view, causing some in the investor community to demand a return to the core product of oil production. It might also be suggested that Drax is taking heed of the European Low Emissions Plant Combustion Directive, which indicates that the long-term aspirations to burn coal are under threat.

A further consideration was the late inclusion of the need for a much wider diameter pipe for the project. This was included so that the development of any other projects would be able to make ready for the juncture of a wider industrial scheme, sourcing carbon dioxide (CO2) from a range of local industrial hubs. Furthermore, the fact that Drax also possesses the capacity to burn biomass, predominantly wood chip, allows for the future capacity to test aspects of the flue gas impurities created by this different material.

EI guidance

Research and guidance produced by the Energy Institute’s (EI) technical group shows that the presence of some elements in the CO2mix can have significant impacts on the corrosion rates of the pipe, and must be managed safely. Following the publication of three CCS guidance documents (see Petroleum Review, August 2013), the EI has identified the need to look in more detail at how much time the individual assets in the different stages of a CCS project will have to react to each other, and how they can best communicate given a set of hazardous circumstances. In the case of the Teesside project involving an industrial cluster, this would require a most specific model, but the EI will be looking to incorporate somewider combined-site project thinking into the current hazard prevention and management approach.

Teesside’s announcement, however, represents an unexpected approach from the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Whilst not actually a CCS power production project in its own right, its function allows it to mature on the basis of a cluster formation. Such a project, if developed, would spring the UK back to the forefront of the international CCS space. No other country would have a live clusters project linked to a major CCS site, and it would be taking the next step on from the Boundary Dam project in Saskatchewan, Canada, which only has one link to the enhanced oil recovery project.

But what of the future economics? Oil companies are unlikely to hold on to a businessmodel for too long, if at all, that has to pay for CO2 to be delivered. However, they will remain happy to use it when supplied free of charge to produce more oil. There is a chance that oil companies might be prepared to pay a cost for the CO2, with a view to offsetting this against the long-term cost of decommissioning oil fields. However, the margins on such work would be tight.

To the taxpayer, one might suggest this is some kind of daylight robbery, but it would represent a similar business model to the one currently used by water companies seeking to remove our waste and sell it back to us as fuel. It is conceivable that a cluster project might even include a water company.

Hence, it seems that there is still a great deal of life left in the UK CCS space for the time being, and the faster that it can be capitalised upon the better, a point well made by the Carbon Capture and Storage Association’s recent report on the economic gain to the UK from CCS,whichwas published lastmonth.

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