By Denise Marray, Gulf Times Correspondent/London
Qatar could be a leader in applying carbon capture and storage technology, the Qatar Carbonates and Carbon Storage Research Centre (QCCSRC) director Professor Martin Blunt has told Gulf Times at Imperial College London.
He was talking in the context of the culmination this year of a major 10-year, $70mn collaboration between Imperial College London, Qatar Petroleum, Shell and the Qatar Science and Technology Park to advance understanding of carbonate reservoirs.
The QCCSRC has addressed challenges that include Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), enhanced oil recovery and producing clean fossil fuels.
Gulf Times visited Imperial College to learn more about the latest research and findings into these undertakings which have such an important bearing on the health and sustainability of the planet.
Asked for his view on the achievements to date, Prof Blunt said: “I would say that our understanding of this process has been transformed through having a large, long-term project.
“We had had a large project with Shell, specifically looking at CO2-related issues. Qatar wanted to understand some of the science associated with CO2 storages, so this collaboration seemed like a good fit.”
Qatar, he believes, could play a leading role in the CCS field.
“In Qatar there are many places where you have an almost pure stream of CO2 or the CO2 is separated from gas anyway. It is completely standard in the oil industry to separate out the carbon dioxide from the natural gas. This is a process that has been around since the 1930s. Normally, that carbon dioxide is then vented into the atmosphere. Qatar also does a lot of gas processing – natural gas to liquids. You burn a lot of gas during those processes and produce carbon dioxide.”
Typically, with CCS the carbon dioxide is injected several kilometres below the surface into porous rock where it can be safely stored deep underground for millions of years.
“CCS allows us to have a smoother transition away from fossil fuels and one at a much lower cost. It’s not a magic bullet – it needs to be done in combination with other technologies,” Blunt explained.
However, while the techniques for CCS are well established, making the commercial case means overcoming resistance from those who look only to short-term gains, he cautioned.
“I would say as an engineering and scientific challenge, Carbon Capture and Storage is something we can do now. It is being done in many sites around the world. The commercial viability depends on how you view the problem.
“From a power generation perspective doing CCS is a cost. It will cost more money than allowing the CO2 to be vented into the atmosphere. And the power station is less efficient; you produce less electricity for a higher cost. So at the moment CCS is just presented as cost – so it is not commercially viable in the sense that it costs more than not doing it. So the question is how do you account for the fact that you are producing low-carbon electricity? How do you account in the Qatari context for collecting the CO2 produced from oilfield operations and injecting it underground?”
There are, he said, a number of ways to address the cost issues.
“There are a number of mechanisms you could use: a carbon tax, a subsidy for low-carbon electricity. Whether or not it is commercially viable is very much a question of the economic context in which you place it. In some cases it is – for example in Norway – because there is a carbon tax in Norway it is cheaper to inject the CO2 underground than it is to pay the tax and vent into the atmosphere.
“Another example of where CCS is viable is in the US. Here the CO2 is injected into an oilfield to enhance the recovery of oil. The costs associated with CO2 injection are outweighed by the benefit of increased oil recovery,” he said.
The issue of cost is putting a brake in large-scale pilot projects.
“The reason CCS – despite many pilot projects – is not happening at large scale is because every project is viewed as a cost. For governments that is difficult to deal with because they are having to give a lot of money for a specific site.
But, failing to take action to implement CCS is a false economy that will prove much more costly in the long term, Blunt warned.
“When you look at it globally the costs of a transition away from fossil fuels are much, much higher if you don’t do CCS. From a global perspective, if you don’t do CCS the costs of dealing with climate change will be much higher,” he concluded.
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