Carbon Capture

Most of us reading these columns are concerned with the impact that man is having on his planet. Despite the relative few(?) who discard the possibility of an anthropogenic impact on climate change, there seems to be an increasing acceptance that the rise in global average temperatures over the past century is largely due to combustion generated carbon dioxide emissions. Given the indisputable fact that global energy demand is ever increasing and the cheapest source of energy for most developing countries is coal – not quite pure carbon, but close to it – the outlook seems bleak. There seems no way that developing nations can be denied access to the cheapest source of energy as we transition to clean renewable sources, so we should take some consolation from the effort being expended to address the issue. There are various programs that address cleaning up the products of combustion but traditionally most have ignored carbon dioxide emissions. Even considerations of bioenergy are often based on the assumption that it is carbon neutral. Irrespective of the balance, it would be better for us all if no carbon dioxide emissions resulted from man’s activities – here, I just want to remind you of a program which promises that – well almost!

The Carbon Dioxide Capture Project started in 2000 and has two underlying goals: reduce the cost of carbon dioxide capture from combustion sources; and develop methods for permanently storing the captured gas underground. Carbon Dioxide capture and geologic storage are seen as bridging technologies that will help move society towards cleaner fuels in the future. It is a project led by some of the world’s largest energy companies in collaboration with bodies such as
the EU and the US DOE. Phase 1 was completed in 2004 and the report has just been published by Elsevier. Phase 2 runs from 2005 till 2007 and most of he original participants are still contributing. It is nice to see some of our oil money being reinvested in a project which, if successful, could benefit so many in almost every industry.

What is even more satisfying is to see the announcement today that BP, one of the Project participants, has committed to building a 500MW power plant in California that will embody the technology developed so far. They are working with Edison Mission Group on the plans for the power plant and with Occidental to explore the options for using Occidental’s California oilfields to host the carbon dioxide. Like most clean (or cleaner than most) alternatives, there will
be an economic penalty to be overcome, but successful demonstration at this scale will be a powerful argument in convincing others to follow. And, of course, Occidental would get a little more oil out of their wells!

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