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A quest for cleaner energy
Carbon dioxide emissions from industry are contributing to climate change. But advanced technology can help to reduce their impact by capturing CO2 and storing it safely underground. In Canada, this new approach will be used at oil sands operations for the first time.
In Alberta, Canada, Shell is one of a number of companies mining the oil sands. This significant resource can play an important part in helping to meet rising energy demand in the coming decades. But separating the oil from sand and clay, then processing it, takes energy and produces CO2 emissions.
A project called Quest will capture more than 1 million tonnes of CO2 each year from the Athabasca Oil Sands Project, Shell’s joint venture. That is the same as taking 175,000 North American cars off the road.
Leading the way
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is an important, available technology that can mitigate greenhouse emissions from power stations, cement factories, refineries and chemical plants, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). It could account for nearly 19% of the total CO2 reductions needed by 2050 to combat climate change, and for 50% by 2100.
Quest is among the first commercial-scale CCS projects and the first in the oil sands industry. Shell technology will capture CO2 from the Scotford Upgrader, which turns heavy oil into crude for refining into fuel and other products.
Hydrogen is produced at the plant for use in the upgrading process, with CO2 a by-product. The CO2 will flow into tanks and be absorbed in a chemical solution. Heating the solution will release the CO2, before it is compressed into a fluid for piping around 80 kilometres (50 miles) north to wells. Here it will be pumped into porous rock more than 2 kilometres (over a mile) underground for permanent storage.
“Early projects like Quest can be critical to help establish best practices and bring down costs,” explains Sarah Forbes, a CCS expert at the World Resources Institute, a global environmental think tank.
Indeed, cost remains a hurdle to widespread use of CCS. The IEAcalls for an investment of $6 trillion for 3,000 CCS projects worldwide.
A price on CO2 emissions can support the development of CCS and other low-carbon technology.
But government support is needed to push CCS through its current demonstration phase and into wider use. Shell and its partners have secured $865 million from the governments of Alberta and Canada to develop the Quest project.
“Scientists have proved the site’s suitability for safe, permanent CO2 storage,” says Rick
Chalaturnyk, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Alberta. “An advanced monitoring and control system will help ensure that no CO2 escapes.”
Quest is one of a number of CCS projects in which Shell is playing a role. In Australia, for example, Shell is a partner in the Gorgon liquefied natural gas project, which will include the world’s largest CCS operation when complete around 2015.