Man turning the dial at Quest
Carbon Capture Storage

Carbon capture: the quest for cleaner energy

In less than four years, the Quest carbon capture and storage facility in Canada has captured and safely stored 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide - the equivalent annual emissions of about one million cars.

By the Inside Energy reporting team on May 22, 2019

Quest

In the middle of Canada's windswept Alberta flatlands, the symbolic opening of a steel valve nearly four years ago signalled an important step in the development of a technology that many now see as critical in the fight against climate change.

As political, business and community leaders watched on, compressed carbon dioxide (CO2) in liquid form flowed through a pipeline that carried it 65 kilometres (40 miles) north beneath farmland and forests.

At the end of the pipeline, the CO2 was injected more than two kilometres underground into a porous rock formation. Natural layers of impermeable rock sealed it in, while a network of sophisticated sensors continuously monitored the containment of the stored CO2.

That moment in 2015 may have seemed neither dramatic or exciting. But this was the start of carbon capture and storage, or CCS, in action.

The launch of the Shell-operated Quest CCS facility came three months before the Paris Agreement saw nearly 200 countries unite with the intention to limit global warming to well below 2° Celsius below pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is now among a growing chorus of experts that argue climate goals may not be achievable without CCS

By May 2019 Quest had officially captured and stored more than four million tonnes of CO2 deep underground. That is roughly equal to the emissions from about one million cars. It means Quest has stored more CO2 than any other onshore CCS facility with dedicated geological storage in the world. It is a milestone that has been reached ahead of schedule and at a lower cost than expected. 

Watch: the role of carbon capture storage

Title:  CCS Master

Duration: 10:46 minutes

Description:

CCS, carbon capture and storage, is the name given to a combination of technologies which capture and store carbon dioxide deep underground, preventing its release into the atmosphere. It is key in the transition to a low-carbon future and the fight against climate change.

In a series of interviews, we talk to David Hone about CCS, to Stuart Haszeldine who explains how nature has been storing CO2 beneath the earth’s surface for millions of years, to Anne Halladay who demonstrates the CCS process at Shell’s Quest project in Canada, and to Anne-Berit Hjorth Viken at the Technology Centre Mongstad, Norway, about the testing of different capture technologies.

 

CCS Master Transcript

[Background music plays]

Instrumental music with synthesised effects

[Video footage]

Time-lapse footage of the city of London as the sun breaks through the clouds. Change to view of our host walking down a busy London street addressing the camera.

Host

There are 7.5 billion people on the planet right now and by the end of the century there could be 11 billion of us.

[Video footage]

Time-lapse footage of Westminster Bridge over River Thames, red London busses and pedestrians, and part of the London eye to the right. Zoom in and fade to white.

[Host Voiceover]

That’s more homes to heat, light and cool, more devices to build, more factories to power, more cars to run, more planes to fly. It all takes energy.

[Animation]

Animation of cars on a road at night, rows of houses on both sides as the lights come on, a boy and girl looking at their smartphone under a streetlight, and other pedestrians. Animation of conveyer belts inside a factory; the top one with laptops, the bottom one with a series of coloured boxes. At the bottom, animation of a row of individuals sat at an office desk working on a computer. Zoom out to animation of a mountain range with trees. Appearing in front of the mountain in sequence: a factory, vehicles on a busy road, an airport tower, a row of houses, a train, more factories, a petrol station, more roads and vehicles, further homes, and planes flying overhead. Fade to white.

[Video footage]

Change back to view of our host addressing the camera set against a London street.

Host

Which leaves society with a bit of a challenge. How does it meet the growing demand whilst reducing carbon dioxide emissions?

[Video footage]

Time-lapse footage of a busy inner-city road and rail network.

Interview with David Hone Part One

[Video footage]

Footage of host interviewing David Hone, the London Eye, River Thames and city in the background.

Host

So, David, have I got this right; more energy means more carbon dioxide emissions, which ultimately leads to climate change?

[Text displays]

David Hone

Chief Climate Change Advisor

SHELL

David Hone

Everything around is a result of our use of coal, oil and gas.

[Video footage]

Footage of a passing train, then time-lapse footage of a train driving over a bridge over the Thames. Time-lapse footage of a city skyline with riverboat traffic on a sunny day.

[David Hone Voiceover]

When we use them, you get carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere and that’s leading to warming of the overall climate system. But the energy system is changing. We’re starting to adopt more technologies such as solar and wind, but that’s not going to be good enough.

[Animation]

Animation of a spinning globe circled by a yellow line set against a light blue background. Zoom in on the globe as wind turbines and solar panels emanate from all sides.

[David Hone Voiceover]

We’re still emitting collectively 35 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum from our use of energy.

[Video footage]

Time-lapse footage of London busses, cabs and other vehicles driving on a road. Footage of a passing inner-city train. Change back to interview footage of host and David Hone.

Host

We need energy to live the lives that we’ve grown accustomed to, so what is the world going to do about it?

David Hone

In 2015 we arrived with the Paris agreement. Now, this sets out a framework for nations to begin to reduce emissions, to limit warming of the climate system to well below 2°C and ideally to limit that to as little as 1.5°C

[Video footage]

Time-lapse footage of pedestrians on Westminster bridge as a boat passes by underneath, then vehicles, cyclists and motorbikes on a busy road, then a plane flying over a city in dark clouds. Pan down to a high-rise building under construction.

 

[David Hone Voiceover]

But the Paris agreement recognises that we’re very likely to be still using oil and coal and gas in a number of applications. For instance, in aviation, in big industrial processes, coal in iron ore smelting.

[Animation]

Animation of lots of pump jacks on green grass set against a light blue sky as an airplane proceeds to fly overhead. Pan right following the plane as a mountain of coal pops up followed by a factory and tractor. Two further factories pop up to the right, in front of them a pallet loaded with cement bags and two large pipes.

[Video footage]

Change back to interview footage of host and David Hone.

David Hone

And so what the Paris agreement says is to achieve a balance between emissions that are remaining and the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.

[Background music plays]

Dramatic music

[Video footage]

Wide-angled view peering through reeds of a bridge over water.

[Male Voiceover]

So how does society go about removing vast quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere? I’m on a beach in Scotland to find out.

[Video footage]

Drone footage of host walking over moss-covered rocks, the bridge in the background. Drone footage of host walking on a beach.

Interview with Stuart Haszeldine

[Video footage]

Footage of host interviewing Stuart Haszeldine on a Scottish beach.

Host

Hello, Stuart.

Stuart Haszeldine

Hi, welcome.

Host

Why am I here?

[Text displays]

Stuart Haszeldine

Professor of CCS

UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH

Stuart Haszeldine

Well, this is a good place to see what nature can do to help mop up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So we’ve got a dark rock here above and below and that’s an oil shale. It’s very rich in organic carbon.  But in between we’ve got a white one, a volcanic rock, and it’s baked above and below and it’s driven off lots of carbon dioxide from that organic rock, and that carbon dioxide’s reacted with the minerals in this rock.

Host

So this has captured the carbon dioxide? It’s like it’s in the rock?

Stuart Haszeldine

That’s correct. It’s stayed there for millions of years now in there, safely locked away.

[Video footage]

Stuart Haszeldine shows host the layered rocks on the beach. The top and bottom layers are dark, whilst the middle layer is much lighter in colour. Wide-angled drone footage of host and Stuart talking by the rocks. Back to footage of Stuart explaining to host.

Host

So the earth has a natural way of dealing with carbon dioxide?

Stuart Haszeldine

It’s what we call the carbon cycle. So that carbon dioxide from the centre of the earth is emitted through volcanoes erupting.

[Animation]

Animation of a river with trees and forest on both sides, a volcano in the background. A series of green lines rise up from the volcano representing carbon dioxide going up into the atmosphere. More green lines rise up from the trees. Blue lines come down from the clouds representing rain.

[Stuart Haszeldine Voiceover]

Carbon dioxide transpires through plants and goes up into the atmosphere so it can be recaptured in plants as well, and carbon dioxide gets dissolved in the oceans and gets dissolved in the rain which comes down.

[Video footage]

Change back to interview footage of host and Stuart Haszeldine.

Stuart Haszeldine

But what’s been happening over the past 250 years since the Industrial Revolution is the balance of the earth has changed. So we’re putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any time ever in the history of the earth, and so that’s overwhelmed the natural system of recovering the carbon.

[Video footage]

Wide-angled view of a train on a bridge over water. Drone footage of three different bridges in close proximity over the same body of water.

[Host voiceover]

So since the Industrial Revolution, because we need energy, we have caused an imbalance, basically?

[Stuart Haszeldine Voiceover]

Exactly.

[Video footage]

Change back to interview footage of host and David Hone.

Host

So, is there anything that technology can do to help deal with carbon dioxide?

Stuart Haszeldine

Yes. So right now there’s a company in Switzerland that’s built one of the first machines which sucks lots and lots of normal air through the fan, carbon dioxide plus air goes in, and air minus carbon dioxide comes out and that can be purified and injected deep underground for permanent storage.

[Video footage]

Stuart gesticulates as he explains.

Host

So this sounds fantastic, but how much CO2 can it deal with?

Stuart Haszeldine

Well, each one of those machines can handle about 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

[Video footage with superimposed animation]

Wide-angled view of host and Stuart on the beach. On-screen animation appears of the machine Stuart was talking about with lots of little spinning fans. More and more of machines pop up all over the screen.

[Stuart Haszeldine Voiceover]

And you need really one of those machines for every household, so you’re going to need thousands and thousands and thousands of those machines.

[Video footage]

Time-lapse footage of a rail bridge over water at a city location. Time-lapse footage of pedestrians crossing the bridge. Time-lapse footage of cars waiting in traffic. Time-lapse footage of London busses and other vehicles on a bridge entering the city.

[Male Voiceover]

The world clearly needs to come up with better solutions to capture and permanently store all the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as well as stopping more from getting up there. And at Shell’s Scotford Refinery in Canada, they’ve made a start, catching waste carbon dioxide before it’s emitted, and then storing it on an industrial scale.

[Video footage]

Series of wide-angled views panning over the Scotford site.

Interview with Anne Halladay

[Text displays]

Anne Halladay

CCS Advisor

QUEST

Anne Halladay

This is Quest, a carbon capture and storage facility, or CCS.         

 

[Video footage]

Anne Halladay walks around the Scotford site and explains to the camera. Wide-angled views of the facility.           

Anne Halladay

So this is the start of our carbon capture process. Raw hydrogen travels through these pipes, across over our heads, and into the absorption tower.

[Video footage with superimposed animation]

Anne Halladay walks and explains, then points upwards to the pipes through which raw hydrogen is carried across to the absorption tower. Wide-angled view of the absorption tower.

[Male Voiceover]

Raw hydrogen contains hydrogen and the waste carbon dioxide. These gasses enter the bottom of the tower and flow upwards.

[Video footage with superimposed animation]

Wide-angled view of the absorption tower and pipes. Animated white lines appear along the tower, while green arrows flow through the pipes and up into the tower, representing the gasses. Aerial view of the tower.

[Host Voiceover]

At the same time, a liquid solvent called ammine, a relative of ammonia, trickles down through an intricate set of 25 metal trays. The ammine’s task is to capture the carbon dioxide and absorb it into solution.

[Video footage with superimposed animation]

Wide-angled view of the absorption tower and pipes panning downwards. Animated white lines appear along the tower, while orange lines appear on the pipes. Then a series of blue and green lines move upwards through the tower. Continue panning down to ground level as the tower is filled with green lines.

Anne Halladay

So once the rich ammine, which is ammine containing the carbon dioxide, comes out of the bottom of the absorption tower, it travels along these pipes to the top of the stripping tower.

 

[Video footage]

Back to Anne Halladay walking and explaining the process to the camera. Drone footage following the pipes to the stripping tower. Wide-angled view of the stripping tower.

[Host Voiceover]

The ammine now containing the carbon dioxide drips slowly down the tower. At the same time, steam is injected into the base of the stripping tower. The steam heats the ammine solution and strips the carbon dioxide from it. This carbon dioxide gas then rises up and out of the tower.

[Video footage with superimposed animation]

Wide-angled view of the stripping tower as animated white lines appear onscreen around the pipes. Green lines appear in the tower and slowly turn orange as they flow downwards.  A series of animated white lines flow upwards through the tower representing steam. Green lines representing the carbon dioxide gas rise up to the top of the tower and into a pipe away from it.

Anne Halladay

The wet carbon dioxide goes through a series of processes to knock all that water out. At the same time, it’s compressed from gas to liquid phase in order to make it easier for transport.

[Video footage]

Back to Anne Halladay walking and explaining. Drone footage panning over the site, then back to Anne. Close-up of a section of pipe with yellow labelling and black text reading CO2 TO PIPELINE.

Anne Halladay

This is the end of the carbon capture part of the process. We’re now at the start of the pipeline which transports the carbon dioxide in liquid phase to our permanent storage site.

[Video footage]

Anne Halladay explains as she walks past the CO2 pipeline and descends some stairs. Aerial footage of a white pick-up truck driving on a road.

[Host Voiceover]

The pipeline snakes underground for 65 kilometres to three injection wells.

[Video footage]

Shot of an injection well. Anne Halladay explains as she walks away from the pick-up truck and ascends some stairs and walks onto a platform with lots of valves. Wide-angled view of the structure Anne is walking on.

Anne Halladay

It’s then injected two kilometres deep underground into a saline reservoir. What makes this particular storage site so safe is that there are multiple layers of rocks called salts and shales that lie above our saline reservoir that will prevent that carbon dioxide from ever escaping.

[Animation]

Animation of the layers of rock underneath the structure Anne was walking on. The top layer is blue, the middle layers shades of brown with shales, and the final layer is blue again. On the right of the animation, a pipe flows down from the structure into the ground to the bottom blue layer while animated green lines flow through the pipe. Animated green lines then zig-zag across the bottom layer.

Anne Halladay

We’re going to be injecting carbon dioxide here for over 25 years. That’s over 25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide going down there and not up there into the atmosphere.

[Video footage]

Back to Anne walking and explaining. Time-lapse footage of a city as trains arrive and depart from a station. Change back to interview footage of host and David Hone.

Interview with David Hone Part Two

Host

So, David, how much of this CCS technology needs rolling out?

David Hone

You need something like 10,000 CCS plants equivalent to the one that we have in Canada today.

Host

10,000? David, it seems like a huge amount. I mean, the cost implications will be huge. Is it viable?

David Hone

We’re testing various ways in which the carbon dioxide can be removed at the lowest cost.

[Video footage]

Drone footage of the approach to the Technology Centre Mongstad. Wide-angled shot panning across the test facility site.

[Male Voiceover]

Here, in Norway, at Technology Centre Mongstad, the world’s largest CCS test facility, they’re developing ways to make CCS far more cost effective.

[Video footage]

Drone footage of the test site. Change to Anne-Berit wearing safety gear talking into the camera.

Interview with Anne-Berit Hjorth Viken

[Text displays]

Anne-Berit Hjorth Viken

Operation Manager

TCM

Anne-Berit Hjorth Viken

So, analysing how the different elements in the process affects cost is crucial.

[Video footage]

More drone footage panning over the site.

[Male Voiceover]

The first element the team study is the incoming waste or flue gas. Different industries in energy production processes emit varying levels of carbon dioxide in their flue gas.

 

 

 

[Video footage]

Anne-Berit walks across the site and explains to the camera.

Anne-Berit Hjorth Viken

At Mongstad, we have the ability to simulate these different sources to develop the best plants of ammine to handle them.

[Video footage]

Drone footage of the site. Shot of Anne-Berit and a male colleague in sort of elevator ascending a tower. Drone footage of the tower.

[Male Voiceover]

Different ammines absorb carbon dioxide at different rates. Anne-Berit’s team are searching for the most efficient blends of ammine to reduce the volume and ultimately the cost of the solvent used.

Anne-Berit Hjorth Viken

Our 60-metre absorption tower allows us to add the ammines at different heights which alters the time the ammine is in contact with the flue gas and, by that, demonstrating how effective the ammine is at absorbing carbon dioxide.

[Video footage]

Anne-Berit continues explaining as the elevator ascends the absorption tower. Further drone footage of the absorption tower.

Anne-Berit Hjorth Viken

Next, we separate the carbon dioxide from the ammine in the stripping tower.

 

[Video footage]

Anne-Berit walks and explains to the camera. Footage of the stripping tower.

[Male Voiceover]

This is an energy intensive process, so the team are searching for ammines that separate easily from carbon dioxide to keep the energy use and therefore costs down.

[Video footage]

Close-up of a transparent case with flat, little metal slabs in a laboratory. In the background, an out-of-focus lab technician approaches. Close-up of the lab technician’s gloved hand opening the case, then lifting out two of the slabs.

[Male Voiceover]

Finally, metal pipes are expensive, so the team look for the least corrosive ammines. They do this by testing the performance of various metals in contact with different ammines to find the best combinations.

[Video footage]

Close-up of the gloved hand putting one of the metal slabs onto a scale. The screen in front of the scale shows its weight.

Anne-Berit Hjorth Viken

All of these advances have brought cost savings of up to 30% and that could make all the difference to faster adoption of CCS globally.

[Video footage with superimposed animation]

Wide-angled view panning across the Mongstad site. Anne-Berit walks and talks into the camera. Back to time-lapse footage of the city bridge and spinning theme park attraction in the foreground.

[Background music plays]

Soft guitar music

[Video footage]

Change back to interview footage of host and David Hone.

Interview with David Hone Part Three

Host

So, David, it’s great that the cost is coming down, but it’s still a big bill to pay at the end of the day. So, who’s going to pay for it?

David Hone

Ultimately, society is going to have to pay the bill and that’s going to require governments to introduce some sort of levy on the use of fossil fuels, for example through a carbon tax, and that will encourage industry to look at ways of capturing carbon dioxide and not emitting it and so not incurring that cost.

[Video footage]

Wide-angled, blurry view of the Thames and Westminster. Time-lapse footage of a busy road. Wide-angled view of a train leaving an inner-city station. Time-lapse footage of a busy rail platform. Back to David Hone speaking. Time-lapse footage of pedestrians crossing a bridge. Time-lapse footage of boats on the Thames as the sun has set. Back to host speaking into the camera.

Host

Meeting the goals of the Paris agreement is a tough challenge for the world. There’s so much that needs to happen to get there.

[Animation]

Animation of a spinning globe circled by a yellow line set against a light blue background. Wind turbines, solar panels and vehicles pop up across the globe. Zoom in on a section of the globe as new structures appear representing CCS plants and LNG trucks drive across it.

[Host Voiceover]

Renewable energies, new technology and cleaner fuels are certainly helping.

[Video footage]

Back to host speaking into camera set against London skyline.

Host

But it seems we somehow need to incentivise the building of thousands of CCS plants around the world to really make a difference, and it needs to happen now.

[Audio]

Shell jingle

[Graphic]

Shell Pecten centred on a white background

[Text displays]

© Shell International Limited 2018

Accelerating adoption around the world

A 2015 report by the IEA says CCS is the only technology able to deliver significant emissions reductions from the use of fossil fuels. The agency's modelling suggests 6 billion tonnes a year of carbon would need to be stored by 2050 to stay in line with the Paris Agreement goals.

CCS can significantly reduce CO2 emissions from power plants and other major industrial processes such as refining, petrochemicals and steelmaking. But cost and technological hurdles have historically hindered the pace of development.

That could soon change. As knowledge helps improve efficiencies, costs are expected to fall, according to Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of CCS at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

"The projects built at industrial scale have been one-off projects on power stations or gas separation facilities. Many [of those involved] have said that...if we did this again we would save about 30 per cent on the cost of the project," he recently told The Energy Podcast.

Michael Crothers, Shell Canada President and Country Chair, agrees. He says lessons from the Quest are being shared openly with others to advance the technology. "While Quest has benefited from significant government funding, the rapid learning curve and cost reductions are making CCS increasingly self-sufficient," he says.

"If Quest were to be built again today, we estimate that it would cost about 20 to 30% less to construct and operate."

Quest
CCS facilities like Quest can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and other major industrial processes such as refining, petrochemicals and steelmaking

Then and now

Today, there are 23 CCS projects around the world in the operational or construction stages, according to the Global CCS Institute. Some 20 others are in various stages of development.

High cost and technical challenges were among the reasons the US government cited in 2015 when it cancelled $1 billion in funding for a major CCS project, FutureGen, that would have reduced carbon emissions from a coal plant in Illinois. It came the same year that a UK CCS project at Peterhead Power Station, backed by energy firms SSE and Shell, was ended.

But things are changing. In November 2018, the UK government unveiled an action plan to develop carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technology. The first project could be up and running by the mid-2020s, the plan says, with an ambition to roll out the technology at scale by the 2030s. 

Separately, Shell is one of six oil and gas companies studying the feasibility of building the first commercial CCS project in the UK. The Clean Gas Project in Teesside, north-east England will capture carbon dioxide emitted from a power plant fired by natural gas and transport it by pipeline into depleted oil and gas reservoirs in the North Sea. 

Meanwhile, the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a coalition of global energy companies, has just announced plans to invest in what is billed as the USA's largest carbon sequestration project, which expects to see up to 1.75 million tons of COemissions each year captured and stored in a saline aquifer about 2,100 metres (7,000 feet) underground.

Government support

Many believe that an effective government-led carbon pricing system will also help make CCS more economically attractive. David Hone, Shell's Chief Climate Change Advisor, says: "We do have a carbon price in places like the European Union already. But I think tailoring an aspect of that to pull CCS into the mix and actually force projects to happen through commercial incentive is what's needed to get this industry going."

 

Note: this story was originally published in 2015 and updated in May 2019 

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