CCS: its time has come
François-Régis Mouton, IOGP EU Affairs Director
The oil & gas industry originally developed many of the techniques integral to carbon capture and storage (CCS) – and we have used them for decades. More recently, through several pilot programmes, we have demonstrated how CCS can also become an important factor in the world’s sustainable energy future.
Since the Paris Agreement, it has become clear that all sectors of the economy, including the oil and gas industry, will have will have to be involved in creating a lower carbon emissions future. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, sees CCS as a key technology to deliver the negative emissions required in 101 out of 116 possible scenarios limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees C1. Likewise, the International Energy Agency (IEA) assigns an important role to CCS (ranking it third behind energy efficiency and renewables) in its projections for greenhouse gas mitigation.
More than an oil & gas thing
But CCS is about more than just “saving oil & gas”. It is a technology that will become crucial for much of the industrial sector, which makes up for around 20% of EU GHG emissions, a critical part of EU R&D, and millions of jobs. It’s therefore much more than climate policy – It should be part of the EU industrial policy.
This is worth bearing in mind as European policymakers look at an ambitious Long Term Climate Strategy towards 2050, which will look at net-zero emissions.
This effort will require an extra push into all sectors of the economy, including those that are difficult to decarbonise. Many industries create CO2 as a byproduct of their processes, not because they necessarily use carbon-intensive energy sources. For them, capturing and disposing of that CO2 may well be the only option to remain in a Europe that aims to be competitive in a net zero-emissions context. Above all, we need to avoid an “industryxit”…
While energy efficiency and switching from coal to gas will account for significant progress towards net zero emissions, in many cases, CCS will be a prerequisite. Without it, parts of the European industry would be obliged to move elsewhere. That is why we need to get the fundamentals in place now.
Building on experience
Our sector has extensive experience with CO2 management, from capture and transport to safe storage. This expertise can benefit other industrial sectors through the broader process called carbon capture, use & storage (CCUS), applicable both pre-combustion and post-processing.
Post-processing solutions are those most familiar to policy-makers, with recent projects in the Netherlands and Norway. In these projects, industrial installations (such as power plants, refineries, cement factories and chemical plants) need to dispose of CO2 inherent to the production process. Once captured, this CO2 can be supplied to industrial users (contributing to the creation of a circular economy). The remainder can be transported by pipeline (as in the Port of Rotterdam project) or by ship (the Norwegian Northern Lights project) and then stored in depleted oil and gas fields in the North Sea.
Less familiar are the pre-combustion techniques that strip carbon from natural gas by steam methane reforming, and turn the gas into ‘blue hydrogen’. This can then serve as a feedstock or become an energy source for industrial users and households. Europe leads the way in this process, with promising projects in the UK and the Netherlands.
In the English city of Leeds, for example, there is a project to determine the feasability of converting existing natural gas infrastructure into a system suitable for hydrogen. If successful, this concept could be applicable througout the UK. In Manchester and Liverpool, steam reforming of natural gas will produce hydrogen for use by car manufacturers, refineries and households in the area. Any remaining CO2 is securely stored beneath the Irish Sea.
In the Netherlands, on a smaller scale, our industry is working on the conversion of one of three Magnum gas power plant units at Eemshaven into a hydrogen-powered facility, with the hydrogen derived from natural gas.
Such projects not only capture CO2 but also the attention of EU policy-makers! They know the technology works, but they question the economics, infrastructure requirements. In some countries, such as Germany, public acceptance of onshore carbon transport and storage is also an issue.
What is needed now is the same dedication to CCS that the EU Member States have shown in their support for renewables – which alone will not provide the energy that a carbon-neutral Europe needs to compete on the world stage, while keeping industry here. Just as Member States have funded research, support mechanisms and even specific targets for renewables, now they need to be equally committed to CCS.
This will require considerable catching up. Previous funding programmes at the EU level have failed to help realise the potential of CCS. The next ones have to make sure that projects of scale can benefit too – probably with combined efforts and funding by national governments, EU institutions and industry. Joint responsibility for impactful projects will see significant emission reductions today, while providing building blocks for tomorrow’s challenges.
As well as coal-to-gas shift in power generation, such commitment would put CCS on an equal footing with other CO2 abatement solutions. Governments, when developing their strategies towards 2050, need to bear in mind that making their vision a reality will rely on CCS.
About François-Régis Mouton
François-Régis is IOGP’s EU Affairs Director. Prior to joining the Association, he was Vice President for Oil & Gas Advocacy with Total. His career took him from reservoir engineering in Europe and Africa, to gas and power business development in the UK and Northern Europe, a senior advisory role in the World Bank’s Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership, and Total’s European Affairs activities in Brussels.
1 IPCC (2014): Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland.
2 IEA: World Energy Outlook 2017. CCS accounts for 9% of GHG savings needed to move from the IEA’s New Policies Scenario to the Sustainable Development Scenario