Carbon capture and storage is commonly regarded as a sensible means of reducing greenhouse gases. In order for the technology to become commercially sound, however, oil prices as well as the price for CO2 emission allowances need to rise.
It has become increasingly evident that carbon capture and storage (CCS) should play an important role in combating climate change, at least during the transition period when fossil energy sources are being replaced with renewables.
Technologically speaking, CCS is not a new phenomenon. However, only a handful of pilot plants around the world currently use the technology.
Before the technology can gain ground, there are both technical and economical obstacles that need to be overcome. “There are currently no economic drivers for CCS, as oil prices are low and the price for European emission allowances has dropped close to zero. As long as there is no price for emitting CO2 into the atmosphere, it’s hard to calculate a payback for a CCS investment”, explains Chief Design Engineer Johan Fagerlund at Citec. Fagerlund has written his PhD on CO2 mineralization, a CCS technology, which is an alternative to the more familiar underground CO2 storage.
In addition to the economic challenges, there are also technical challenges regarding the CCS technologies. “One problem is that the process for capturing carbon dioxide from flue gas still requires quite a lot of energy. The bigger the energy consumption, the lesser the benefit of carbon capture”, Fagerlund points out. “However, it is possible to minimise the impact on the overall energy balance through clever heat integration”, he continues. Another technical obstacle is related to the chemicals used for separating and capturing the carbon from the flue gas. “There is a risk that you will get other kinds of chemical emissions when trying to reduce carbon emissions, although the chemicals used are continuously being improved. And then there is of course the challenge about what to do with the carbon dioxide once it has been captured.”
Despite the challenges, Fagerlund is still optimistic when it comes to the opportunities for CCS. “Although we currently lack the economic incentives, there are political drivers at work in favour of CCS, as the Norwegian example shows. It would be of utmost importance to implement the CCS technology in a few plants. Once that is done, the technology will develop rapidly and the costs will fall. When the demand for CCS consulting and engineering rises, Citec is well positioned in the market.”