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Greenhouse gases may be stored in former oil fields
Regine Debatty, 15 Jun 05

0,,206696,00.jpgThe British government has announced a plan to develop ways of scrubbing carbon dioxide from the emissions of coal and gas-fired power stations and pumping it beneath the seabed to reduce the impact of fossil fuels on the climate. The greenhouse gas would be stored in depleted North Sea oil and gas fields within ten years.

Carbon capture, also called sequestration, involves passing flue gases from power stations through chemical solvents to remove the carbon dioxide. The gas is then compressed to liquify it, and sent by pipeline to oil or gas rigs. There, it is pumped underground into strata once filled with the fossil fuels.

If the schemes prove successful, they could reduce greenhouse emissions from power stations by up to 85 per cent.

Norway has been running a pilot sequestration project since 1996 in which more than a million tonnes of carbon dioxide have been pumped into empty oil strata in stable and sustainable fashion.

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This is backwards logic. The cost of developing, implementing and maintaining such a band-aid system out weighs its benefit. It is likely to double the cost of fossil fuel generation, and is not sustainable practice. Consider the energy required (and emissions produced) to capture, compress and transport CO2 for 100s of miles, and then to recap the underground strata (if achievable). It is likely to exceed the cost of the mining and processing of the coal itself. The effort and finance would be much better spent developing renewable and sustainable generation solutions rather than to prop up the coal industry. Coal power is no longer an environmentally viable solution to anyone other than those who have been making money from it at the expense of the environment for years. But let’s just watch them dig their nails in and throw money at it.

The Norwegian pilot, is just that, it is on a minute scale, 1 million tones of carbon dioxide is approximately the amount of CO2 generated by a very small power plant of 500MW in around 3 months. The combined volume of CO2 generated by a number of large power stations would require sequestration on an immense scale.

Have a nive day.

Posted by: Henry on 15 Jun 05

Sorry, that should be nice day :)

Posted by: Henry on 15 Jun 05

Doing that on a significant scale would only be good to buy a bit of time, but it is obviously a temporary and unsustainable solution to our GHG problem.

I just hope that this technology won't be used to justify the construction of NEW coal plants.. It should only be used on the old one, and new generation should come from clean sources.

Posted by: Mikhail Capone on 15 Jun 05

Over the past 15 years, we've increased the organic matter in our garden soil from 1% to 7.7%. The garden is 0.4 acre (0.16 hectare). Conservative calculations are that we've stored 19 tons (U.S.) of carbon, or about 70 tons (63.5 tonnes) of CO2 - and we have thriving, healthy soil and crops.

There are approximately 660 million hectares (1.65 billion acres) of land in grain production worldwide. Soil organic matter has generally been falling in agricultural land. Increasing the organic matter in this grain land by 1% would sequester almost 40 billion tons (36.3 billion tonnes) of CO2.

But sequestration of any kind is secondary to the need to reduce emissions. There's no technical fix to avoid that fact.

Posted by: David Foley on 15 Jun 05

Biological sequestration isn't a bad concept - but look at the logic:

stored carbon (coal) -> energy + CO2
CO2 + sunlight + other energy -> plants
plants -> useful stuff + CO2 + stored carbon

Does anybody else see the pointlessness of this? Why not just take the "stored carbon" out of the picture:

CO2 + sunlight + other energy -> plants
plants -> useful stuff (including energy) + CO2

Or, net:
sunlight -> useful stuff (including energy)

i.e. biomass is a much more effective way to do this than coal + sequestration. Photovoltaics is probably even more effective. Cut out the pointless cycles and you're improving the world.

Posted by: Arthur Smith on 15 Jun 05

So I'm wondering what happens to this liquid carbon dioxide over time, does it eventually become a gas again or what?

I'm guessing that this process is similar to what Houston, Texas based DKRW Energy (a new company founded by ex-Enron executives) plans to do in the western United States, and who just received guaranteed funding in the new Energy Bill approved by the US Congress.

Posted by: @rt on 15 Jun 05

Why would raising the cost of coal be bad, exactly? If coal mines and power stations were required to offset their carbon release with sequestration, that would make more straightforwardly clean tech like renewables cheaper and hence more attractive.

Posted by: Adam Burke on 15 Jun 05

Adam, you are right, raising the price of coal is certainly a benefit in making renewable technologies more competitive. The weakness of geosequestration partnered with coal is that it is not a sustainable technology, it may well assist us in improving the emissions situation and bridge a gap over the next 30 years or so until renewable solutions are developed to the point where they can provide the majority of our power needs, but as Mikhail has pointed out we would not want this to lead to the justification of additional coal plants being commissioned.

At present there is no technology that is capable of supplying the increasing electricity demands of growing economies other than large scale, coal, gas, nuclear or hydro plants (where it can be implemented). Due to the generally lower generating capacities of developing renewable technologies they are not filling the need that huge 1000 plus MW plants are supplying. There is no way around this at present with the nature of peoples’ present consumption habits. Renewables simply cannot be developed fast enough to meet increasing demand and replace coal or nuclear power.

I’m a strong believer in energy efficiency, and a mix of renewable technologies implemented on a smaller distributed scale, but this will take longer to implement and requires much more coordination and commitment from all. The sad reality of consumerism is that people will just let out their belt buckle and let their gut expand instead of cutting down on the KFC and heading to the track to lose a few pounds. Put in terms of electricity, energy efficiency is our best defence against global warming and could cut global energy demands by 20-30-40% wiping out the need for numerous existing power stations, but instead, the solution is to keep putting in more capacity to feed the machine, cause that’s what’s good for business.

Posted by: Henry on 16 Jun 05

for a more balanced report:,12188,1042520,00.html

The European commission will only consider including sequestered carbon dioxide in emissions trading schemes (and therefore effectively putting a value on it to offset investment costs) if scientists can show the technology is safe. "There is a genuine concern that if we put this stuff away for thousands of years, then what happens if it leaks," said Nick Riley, an expert with the British Geological Survey and a member of the DTI working group. "That's a valid concern. No body understands fully what the implication would be of leakage into the marine environment."

While using carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery is allowed, merely pumping it under the seabed for storage could contravene various treaties aimed at restricting dumping wastes at sea.

There would also be planning concerns about the pipeline network. While carbon dioxide is not flammable or particularly toxic, large-scale releases can be a hazard because the dense gas tends to hug the ground. More than 1,700 people died in 1986, many of them suffocating in their sleep, when a huge cloud of naturally produced carbon dioxide escaped from Lake Nyos in Cameroon.

New power station technology to turn coal into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, and so allow the greenhouse gas to be captured before the fuel is burnt, will also probably be needed. The US department of energy intends to build a $1bn plant to demonstrate this by 2006.

Posted by: Janelle on 16 Jun 05

Henry, you make good points, but you're making "sad truth" claims about people as if they were laws of physics. Billiard balls I can predict; people I can't. I have more doubts about our ability to expand our already gargantuan electricity grid than I do about people's acceptance of efficient lights, Energy-Star appliances, LCD computer screens, efficient electric motors, state of the art air conditioning, and so on.

And that's the crux of this issue. Sequestration is a sideshow - except where biological sequestration yields other benefits, such as ecological restoration. The whole topic reminds me of the identity test at the insane asylum: a wash room is flooding, and people are frantically mopping the floors. Those are the inmates. Finally, along come the wardens and turn off the spigots.

Posted by: David Foley on 16 Jun 05

David I like your analogy. My sad truth was more a chance to have a dig at consumerism as a culture; I can’t help but see it as the root of many evils. Admittedly a generalisation that doesn’t take into account that there are many out there making their own way to help swing things in the right direction, and not everyone eats KFC.

Posted by: Henry on 16 Jun 05

Henry, wind power is NOW being installed at a rate equivalent to several nuclear reactors per year, and there's no reason that can't be doubled and redoubled on a very quick pace, other than regulatory and price uncertainties for the power producers. It's commercially competitive with current fossil fuel prices, and proven in many locations around the world.

Other technologies (photovoltaics especially) aren't that far off either.

Efficiency is great, but it's never going to be enough to meet increasing demand from the rest of the world.

Posted by: Arthur Smith on 16 Jun 05

The money would be much better spent commercialising wave & tidal power technology, which within a decade or two could be at the same level as wind power is today.

Alternative Energy Blog

Posted by: Alternative Energy Blog on 16 Jun 05

Arthur, you are not wrong there with the wind power developments, and this certainly is very positive. However, several nuclear reactors worth of wind power still isn't quite going to cut it if you consider that China alone is planning on commissioning 40 nuclear plants in the next 15 years.

Don’t get me wrong though, things are really heading in the right direction with carbon taxing and trading, emission controls on fossil generation and developments in renewable technologies, however all of these elements are still in their infancy so progress is slow. It is always somewhat frustrating to see money heading towards unsustainable practice, such as geosequestration, when it would be better spent, as James says, on developing and commercialising more sustainable generation methods.


Posted by: Henry on 16 Jun 05

Wind (i.e. the growth in the industry) is already adding the equivalent of several nuclear power plants EVERY YEAR. China's 40 over 15 years means only 2-3 per year. Wind can easily outpace that, doubling and redoubling as I mentioned. There are limits with our current grid, so it's critical we invest in some of the other technologies that have been mentioned - in particular wind and solar won't be able to exceed about 20% of supply without new low-cost storage and transmission technologies.

Posted by: Arthur Smith on 16 Jun 05



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