Image via The Economist.
True, carbon capture and storage (CSS) technology is perceived by many environmentalists as a chimera - at best, too expensive to be widely utilized and at worst, an empty PR tool for "clean coal." However, in some countries the governments are taking CCS very seriously.
One state that is already experimenting with carbon capture is Abu Dhabi, a top carbon emitter which aims to capture and store a full third of its emissions by 2020. And with their own oil reserves (like coal deposits in the US) not projected to run out any time soon, Abu Dhabi is hoping to make the most of its oil wealth, while avoiding the consequences of being one of the world's more serious polluters. Below: an interview Bader Al Lamki, the man charged with making Abu Dhabi's CCS project a reality.
Masdar's CCS projects involves capturing carbon dioxide from the chimneys of three as yet unbuilt sites: a steel plant, an aluminum smelter and a hydrogen power station. The gas, hauled across the desert inside a 300km pipeline, will be sold to the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which will use it to increase pressure in their oil fields, thus enhancing production.
TreeHugger: What stage is all of this at right now?
Lamki: The planning stage is done. Feasibility studies have been conducted. We've launched the front-end engineering design (FEED) phase. The purpose of this phase is to nail down the engineering work, get the cost estimate to the right accuracy, and then move into the "engineering procurement and construction". So we are in the basic engineering stage, pre-construction.
We plan to finalize the FEED stage by the third quarter of this year. Then we'll put out a tender for the construction phase. This being a sizable project, the tender process could take anywhere between six to eight months, followed by 2-3 years of construction. So we expect it to be up and running around 2013.
TreeHugger: Would you characterize this as a green solution, a sustainable solution?
Lamki: It does introduce a tangible and significant impact for the issue of global warming. We see the alternative energies, wind solar and the like, as quite challenging in terms of development. And we've initiated projects to move them forward, and everybody's exhausting all efforts to do that, but their impact will probably be felt more over the medium and longer term.
But at the moment we do have sources of carbon dioxide, which is being emitted into the atmosphere. And should we succeed in this project, we'll be able to capture, reduce and store it forever down in the reservoir. So it is sustainable and I believe that it is a tangible interim solution to combat the issue of climate change, and it is not something that we are doing in isolation of the rest of the world. Europe, the United States, I understand, and Australia are all looking at deploying CSS projects.
TreeHugger: Do you consider this a proven technology?
Lamki: The capture aspect is done today, but at a smaller scale, for industrial purposes. Usually carbon dioxide is used for ammonia and urea production in the fertilizer industry. Now we want to upscale that for a different purpose. That has an element of engineering work, rather than technology development.
The pipeline is something that has been designed. If you go to west Texas, there are pipelines and pipelines carrying CO2. So that is something proven.
On the injection side, the reservoir, if you go to In-Salah in Algeria, West Texas, or Alberta I believe you will see that this has been done. So the components of the project, I believe, are quite well proven.
TreeHugger: Is Masdar's project economically viable?
Lamki: I spend my day on project delivery, so there are more qualified people to comment on this. But generally speaking, indeed these projects are challenging, capital-intensive and in my mind the aim is to try to drive costs down as much as possible. The business model that is going to be there needs to be looked at at a country level, examining both the environmental and the business aspects behind it, and the value of the CO2 here is going to be realized in the enhanced oil recovery as well. That then comes into the equation one way or another at the state level.
Now we definitely still need other means of support to make this project viable and that is where the carbon credits come into play. We are lobbying for that. We think it is important that CCS be recognized as a Clean Development Mechanism methodology. There was plenty of discussion about this last year at Copenhagen, and soon there should be an alignment at the international level to realize this.
TreeHugger: What percentage of the country's carbon emissions will be captured by this project?
Lamki: In this immediate project, phase one, we are talking about 5 million tons of CO2 to be captured, which is not a significant percentage of total emissions. But it's part of a larger vision. By the year 2020 we are aiming to capture at least one third of Abu Dhabi's CO2 emissions. [Partially through this,] Masdar's goal is to reduce Abu Dhabi's greenhouse gas emissions by one third by the year 2020.
TreeHugger: In your opinion, could a project like this happen on a larger scale in a place like the US or China, where they burn a lot of coal?
Lamki: It's an interesting question. I think that in order to have this type of project implemented elsewhere, you need to have the components of the project be favorable in a given country. So you need to have a source of CO2, not too far away from the sinks where the CO2 will be injected - that keeps transportation costs low. And, you need reservoirs with the right geological characteristics.
TreeHugger: Is there a danger that the carbon might leak out? Do you have any sort of dialog with environmental organizations like Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund, who might have some input about the project?
Lamki: Yes, we are not working in isolation. We are part of the dialog that is going on. I would like to stress that the dialog is what is important. We understand that there are some concerns raised by the organizations that you just mentioned around the issue of leakage. That's noted and recognized, and I think that we need to sit together and see what the alternatives are and really try to understand how tangible the risk is.
The UAE being an oil-producing country, we have a wealth of experience with the geology of the earth and the reservoirs. And I believe that we'll be doing proper work in terms of understanding the type of reservoirs we are going to inject the CO2 into, the various tools that people need to rely upon and all these issues. This is part of a context that does not only recognize the problem, but also serves to find out what solutions and what measures need to be taken.
More Carbon Capture and Storage:
Carbon Capture And Sequestration (CCS) Update: Capture Methods Highlighted By USDOE Grant
Cool New Interactive Carbon Capture & Storage Maps Launched
135 Million Tons of CO2 Saved - And Counting