CCS edges closer to commercialisation


Recent technological breakthroughs are fuelling hopes that CCS will fulfil its decarbonising potential, writes Frank Ellingsen of CO2 Technology Centre Mongstad.

The International Energy Agency estimates that fossil fuels will account for 60 per cent of energy generation by 2030, making carbon capture and storage (CCS) a vital technology for decarbonising the world’s energy supply.

According to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, exceeding a global temperature rise of 2à‚°C would be ‘catastrophic’ for the global economy, and there has been international accord that a pathway to keep global warming within that level to 2050 must be set.

The IEA, the EU and the IPCC indicate that a fifth of the carbon reduction target needed to keep to the 2 Degrees Scenario (2DS) by 2050 could come from CCS alone. CCS is capable of reducing CO2 emissions from fossil fuel power stations by up to 90 per cent, so the race to commercialise and industrialise the technology is on.

Technology testing is necessary for verifying capture technology, which in turn reduces costs, plus technical, environmental and financial risks, thereby creating the preconditions for the industrialisation of CCS.

The UK Energy Research Council (UKERC), which spent two years researching the means for establishing CCS as a mainstream technology, came to the same conclusion: a regulatory approach making CCS compulsory in all fossil plants will only work if the technology is more advanced. So what are the greatest barriers from a technology perspective and what advancements have been made?

Energy companies and CO2 suppliers have been capturing CO2 in large-scale plants for decades; a technique that has been utilised in Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), as well as the production of commercial products like carbonated drinks. But capture remains the hardest aspect of CCS: up to 80 per cent of the costs of CCS are related to the capture process, so it is one of the main barriers holding the technology back from being developed at commercial scale. Currently, carbon capture is costly; the GCCSI estimates that each MWh supported by CCS costs energy generators an additional $50-100, as well as substantial capital costs for development.

To meet the need to evolve cost effective capture methods, CO2 Technology Centre Mongstad (TCM) a $1 billion joint venture part owned by the Norwegian government, Statoil, Shell and Sasol has been set up for vendors to test their technologies and to increase knowledge on capture technologies, in order to reduce technical and financial risk, and accelerate the development of qualified technologies which are capable of wide scale international deployment.

TCM's next round of testing begins in 2014
TCM’s next round of testing begins in 2014

One of the technologies which has been tested since TCM opened in May 2012 is amine solvent carbon absorption, which has been tested in collaboration with technology partner, Aker Solutions.

In amine processing, CO2 is captured by an amine solvent, a liquid comprising water and amines, which is used to absorb the CO2 from the flue gas.

Amine technology has been used for decades in other applications and is therefore considered to have a moderate technical risk. However, at TCM the vendors will evaluate opportunities for improvements in process design, construction methods and operations with the purpose to qualify the technology for use in large scale post-combustion plants.

Based on the findings from the amine plant, TCM and Aker Clean Carbon have launched papers, which verify safe amine carbon capture from flue gases. The TCM amine plant is capable of processing 100 000 tonnes of CO2 per year. The sources are the a refinery with equal CO2 content to coal fired power plant and combined heat and power (CHP).

TCM has carried out more than 5000 hours of testing
TCM has carried out more than 5000 hours of testing

Off the back of the operational experience built up at among others TCM, Shell is developing Quest; one of the world’s largest full-scale CCS project that will be operational in 2015. Shell is constructing the project on behalf of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project joint venture owners, which are Shell Canada Energy (60 per cent), Chevron Canada Limited (20 per cent) and Marathon Oil Canada Corporation (20 per cent). The project has also received funding from the governments of Alberta and Canada.

Beginning in 2015, Quest will capture more than one million tonnes per year of CO2 from Shell’s Scotford oil sands upgrader near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada – the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road annually. The CO2 will be sent by an 80-km pipeline to a suitable storage site where it will be injected and permanently stored more than two km underground. Shell’s patented ADIP-X amine-based capture technology has been a worldwide gas processing industry standard for extracting hydrogen sulphide and CO2 from natural gas for more than 40 years.

Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Siemens are all interested in the next round of testing at TCM
Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Siemens are all interested in the next round of testing at TCM

It is important to remember that CCS technology is an evolutionary process, which must be started now, to enable us to decarbonise existing fossil fuel reserves, as well as future fossil fuel excavations. As well as amine processing which is far along the evolutionary scale, and also chilled ammonia technology developed by Alstom, TCM’s facilities enable future technology evolution, by providing the available area, utilities and infrastructure for the construction and testing of further carbon capture technology.

CCS technology has a vital role to play in the decarbonisation of global energy supply between now and 2050 and will have an even greater role to play beyond that, as unconventional energy sources take on an even greater resonance. It is not a case of if, but when these technologies are developed and the longer we wait, the more expensive they become. These projects will only work through the sharing of knowledge allowing each project to stand on the shoulders of the previous, in order to develop the market.

Recently, the world’s first international test centre network for carbon capture test facilities was launched, to share knowledge and accelerate the commercialisation of technology. The key aims of the network are: to share technological developments, construction and operational experience, establish performance indicators, promote technology certification and standardisation. For the first time, a collaborative playing field has been established allowing technologists to advance technology innovation, secure public support for and develop awareness of CCS benefits.

It is encouraging that technologies are advancing, and that knowledge sharing is taking place. The lead time for any new energy technology, from pilot to the beginnings of commercial deployment and then to materiality in the energy system (>1 per cent) typically takes some 25-30 years. That seems a long time, but the CCS industry also has in its favour the benefit of scaling up existing methods known to the oil and gas industry, such as amine processing. We cannot predict exactly which technologies will be used by 2050, but what is clear is that each of the various technology stages are vital for industrialisation, including the need for commercial demonstration programmes.

This process begins to de-risk the technology for future business investment, bringing some level of certainty to expected capital expenditure and ongoing operating costs. This evolution of technologies helps to establish infrastructure, which in turn lowers the cost for the next projects.

Frank Ellingsen à‚  Frank Ellingsen is managing director at CO2 Technology Centre Mongstad.

5000 hours and countingࢀ¦

Since TCM’s test activity started in July 2012, the facility has been in operation for more than 5000 hours.

The TCM core utility infrastructure has operated with more than 98 per cent availability and this has made it possible to supply the two absorption plants with exhaust gas and other utilities as requested by the two technology owners utilising the large scale test units.

TCM is currently testing Aker Solutions amine technology in the amine plant and Alstom Chilled Ammonia technology the ammonia plant.

Once the plants were tested and accepted by TCM, each vendor is allowed an agreed period to test and improve their technologies. The tests in the amine plant have been performed according to the vendor’s test plan, with two different solvents, including transient tests and reclaimer operation. Similarly, testing, optimisation and modification of the ammonia plant is on-going in co-operation with Alstom.

As well as testing technologies, rigorous air sampling undertaken during plant operations has made a major contribution to CCS by gaining real life results from industrial testing related to the formation, degradation and dispersion of amine solvents. Based on the TCM programme, three scientific reports have been published, which for the first time have independently recommended the viability of safe amine carbon capture.

To enable technology verification, TCM’s industrial-scale laboratory collects a vast amount of data from more than 4000 measuring points connected to online instruments. The lab tests around 100 samples each day, providing vital information on the selection and use of amine and ammonia chemicals for absorbing and releasing CO2 with minimum energy use. Instruments and sampling systems have been successfully verified and optimized, which is an important achievement for technology development and verification of CCS technologies.

A further development is that tests are soon to be performed with a solvent mix of the amine, monoethanolamine (MEA), and water.

An absorption process using MEA is used as a base case when different CCS technologies are evaluated and tested. The MEA based chemical absorption process is used as a baseline when comparing different carbon capture technologies. TCM’s MEA test will provide a new and improved baseline from an industrial size ‘lab’ facility. The baseline will be valid for a variety of CCS applications, both in the process industry and in power production.

From 2014, the next round of testing of other absorption solvents will begin at TCM’s amine plant, which is capable of processing up to 80,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. Aker Solutions, Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Siemens have all registered their interest in this first invitation cycle. Negotiations are currently underway to finalise the next users. TCM is also offering available space designated for installing further technology test unit(s), either for the construction of a new generation solvent test facility, or for entirely new technologies. Companies can register their interest for utilisation of this additional space with TCM until July 1 2013.

More information on the third site and registering interest can be found at

Vendor support for TCM

“At a time when so many full-scale projects are being delayed, the importance of R&D, testing and demonstration is even greater. TCM is unique in a global context. We believe TCM will play an important role going forward. The Norwegian government involvement is essential for TCM’s existence.”

Tore Amundsen, chief executive of Gassnova

“Our advanced carbon capture technology is being demonstrated every day at industrial scale with a high plant uptime and at a capture rate of the predefined 85-90 per cent. Results from emission monitoring campaigns at TCM have been excellent, which was one of the most important issues before scaling up the technology to full-scale carbon capture at Mongstad. We are very proud of this achievement.”

Henning àƒËœstvig, senior vice-president, Aker Solutions

“We are proud to be part of the world’s most advanced test centre for development of CO2 capture technologies. Our experiences so far with our Chilled Ammonia Process at Mongstad have confirmed our view of the Chilled Ammonia technology as a viable and very competitive technology.”

Eric Staurset, country president, Alstom Norway

“CO2 Technology Centre Mongstad is a great asset to the worldwide CCS community. At a time when it is proving difficult to finance a large-scale CCS demonstration, due in part to the current economic concerns as well as uncertainty in climate policy, TCM provides a path forward for technological innovation.”

Howard Herzog, senior research engineer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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