Norway announces further commitment to North Sea CCS
August 30, 2017
Statoil will evaluate a carbon capture and storage programme near the Troll field, reports Sam Wright
Norway’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) state enterprise Gassnova SF has assigned Statoil to evaluate a large potential CCS programme on the Norwegian Continental Shelf near the Troll oilfield. The project could have high commercial potential, if the technical issues can be overcome.
Statoil’s proposed CCS system will capture and store carbon dioxide from three onshore plants, shipping it up the coast to an onshore receiving facility in northwest Norway. Once there it will be sent via a series of undersea pipelines to three injection wells and injected back into the shale of the Troll oilfield.
At present, the project is still in an evaluation phase. Many locations have not yet been finalised, including the site of the receiving plant. When constructed, however, the plan is to create a commercial CCS solution capable of receiving carbon from Norwegian and European sources.
The programme will now begin seeking investment and funding, with a decision to proceed scheduled for the Norwegian parliament in 2019.
A wider reach So why is the Norwegian government pursuing CCS at this scale? The Troll project has only recently been proved to be technologically feasible following a series of studies carried our 2016. While there are more than 20 underground CCS projects in development or operation worldwide already, several of them in Norway, the technology remains underdeveloped and questionably cost-effective.
Norway is one of the leading nations conducting CCS, but the Sleipnir and Snohvit CCS projects run by Statoil have been operational for just 20 years. Compared to other ways of cutting carbon, such as renewable energy, CCS lags behind in terms of reliability and profitability.
Speaking to NewsBase, head of Natural Gas and Carbon Research at the research consultancy Energy Aspects Trevor Sikorsky suggested that this project might have larger goals and markets in mind than mere domestic industry.
“Norway has been running CCS programmes for a while, so I think it’s more a question of consolidating the investment they’ve already made. From a business standpoint, the idea is to roll out CCS as a technology and a pool of expertise that they can sell to others. They’ll be aiming to sell to countries with big coal and gas and fossil fuel infrastructure like China and India.
“If you’ve already gone down the road and made an investment in the technology, like Norway has,” he added, “then you’re going to want to keep pushing and try and make some money out of it. That said, I don’t think there’s a massive appetite out there for CCS. Certainly Norway has the potential to operate CCS projects. They mainly use gas-fired power stations, which can be easily captured, and they’ve got the money and political will to run this kind of big project – but with renewables now able to generate a reliable baseload through battery storage and better technology it’s falling behind as a low-carbon solution.”
Renewables, not repositories This opinion – that CCS has essentially lost the race against renewable energy as the principle green energy solution – is an interesting one. One of the method’s major drawbacks is that it does not produce any power by itself, instead merely mitigating carbon emissions from existing power plants.
While renewable energy was still intermittent and unreliable, this was not a major problem, but advancements in the field of battery storage and the cost-effectiveness of renewable systems have made them much more viable in recent years.
“CCS used to be the flavour of the month, but it’s really lagged behind other solutions,” Sikorsky continues. “We’ve seen massive uptake of solar and wind power, which to my mind are better solutions than CCS. You don’t have the environmental impacts of fossil fuel mining, you don’t have the environmental impacts of transporting fuel and then carbon around the planet – there’s a lot of good reasons to go down a pure renewables route rather than an adjunct to fossil fuels.” Furthermore, CCS is still comparatively expensive, especially without the economy of scale benefits and reduction in costs that renewables have seen thanks to extensive use and government subsidies. Renewables are also viable on a much smaller scale than CCS projects, with personal-scale projects such as home solar panels and miniature wind turbines being feasible, while CCS is not viable in the same way. There is also the necessity of absolutely gas-tight storage for CCS projects – many underground repositories like the Troll oilfield have been extensively drilled and tapped, meaning that there are many potential leak points. A 1% leak rate will drain the storage in less than 100 years, making the project pointless in a relatively short space of time.
No mean feat If it is viable and approved, this project will be a huge endeavour that unites the Norwegian government, industrial and commercial partners for a huge programme of technological, regulatory and commercial development. Collaboration will be essential, especially if Norway wants to develop the required bases of knowledge and technology to sell CCS internationally.
One other potential green benefit of this programme is the possibility of hydrogen generation through CCS. Hydrogen extracted from natural gas produces carbon, but if a reliable CCS value chain and the appropriate infrastructure exists it could potentially mitigate the carbon emissions of hydrogen as a fuel source, resulting in carbon-free combustion energy.
Effective CCS significantly simplifies the value chain of hydrogen power generation for vehicles and power plants, potentially making it a component of a green power source to rival renewables – if it works.