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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Add a U (and a USA) to CCS

The most direct pathway to bringing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to scale in time to help save us from the worst of global climate disruption is to insert a “U” into the acronym – where “U” stands for “Utilization.”

Ironically, producing more hydrocarbons in the short term - and begging the question of how to get off oil - is what’s needed now to mitigate the accumulated effects of past hydrocarbon combustion. As I’ve written, utilizing captured carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery and enhanced gas recovery will offset some of the initial high costs of the technology, and - just as important - propel capture technologies down their cost curves and enable wider application to power plants and industrial sources of CO2 emissions.

Plus, the production of more oil (and eventually gas) would sock away a lot of carbon in the process.  How much?

According to this presentation by respected authority Vello Kuuskraa of Advanced Resources International (with whom I’ve had the pleasure of serving as a co-panelist on several occasions) – a huge amount.

Currently in the US, 117 EOR projects produce 282,000 barrels of oil per day. Over 80% of the CO2 used to get that oil comes from naturally-occurring sources, and less than 20% from anthropogenic sources like factories or power plants. 

EOR production is projected to grow to 650,000 barrels per day by 2020, and demand for CO2 is projected to more than double.  Where we get the CO2 for that production – and to achieve the full potential of EOR – will make all the difference.

Current US coal-fired power capacity is about 300 GW. ARI says that if the US went all-in on utilizing CO2 for on-shore EOR in the lower 48 states, nearly a billion metric tons of CO2 could be stored by 2030. That’s roughly equivalent to capturing 90% of the CO2 emitted from five 1GW coal-fired power plants for 30 years.

In the longer term, using next-generation EOR technology, and expanding EOR to Alaska and off-shore oil plays, ARI finds that demand for CO2 – and storage – could equate to the emissions of 231 1GW coal-fired power plants - 77% of all US coal-fired emissions.

This is an oversimplification, obviously, but it illustrates the opportunity. The potential demand for CO2 for EOR is immense.  Solutions like the Pennsylvania model of CCUS networks will be essential to link power plants and factories to CO2 users in the most economical and efficient way.  And it's clear that we should leave the natural CO2 in the ground and move as rapidly as possible to replace them with solely anthropogenic sources of CO2 – factories and power plants.

The climate, environmental, and public health gains would be even bigger if those CCS-equipped power plants switched from coal to natural gas.  

ARI’s analysis shows that this vision of putting the "U" in CCUS could also put a "Made in the USA" stamp on it as well.  Leading the world in the development of CCUS technology and creating the jobs that will come with it in a global market is economically viable. What's lacking is political will.

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