Tracing Carbon Capture: A Timeline Unfolding in Energy Portals

Tracing Carbon Capture: A Timeline Unfolding in Energy Portals
  • PublishedJune 21, 2023

The path towards a sustainable future necessitates the development and application of innovative technologies to mitigate climate change’s impacts. 

One such technology, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), is emerging as a promising solution in energy portals worldwide. This article offers a journey through the unfolding timeline of carbon capture, starting with a comprehensive explanation of the CCS concept.

Understanding Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a pioneering technology with a unique objective: to curb the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. 

The core of CCS revolves around capturing CO2 generated from burning fossil fuels in power generation and industrial processes, subsequently transporting this captured CO2, and finally, depositing it in a place where it will not find its way into the atmosphere.

The Capture Process

The journey of carbon capture begins with the separation of carbon dioxide from other gasses produced during the combustion of fossil fuels or various industrial processes. 

This first, crucial step in CCS employs one of three main methods for capturing CO2. The choice of method depends largely on the specific circumstances and requirements of the energy production or industrial process.

Post-combustion Capture

Post-combustion capture is a technique where CO2 is captured after the fossil fuels have been combusted, producing flue gasses. This method is most commonly used in power plants and industrial processes where fossil fuels like coal, oil, or natural gas are used.

In post-combustion capture, the exhaust gasses from combustion are passed through a ‘scrubber,’ where a solvent absorbs the CO2. 

The mixture of CO2 and solvent is then heated, causing the CO2 to separate from the solvent. The isolated CO2 can then be compressed and transported for storage, while the solvent is cycled back into the scrubber for reuse.

Pre-combustion Capture

Unlike post-combustion capture, pre-combustion capture involves capturing CO2 before the fossil fuel is fully combusted. This technique requires the fossil fuel to be treated with oxygen or air and steam, producing a ‘synthesis gas’ or ‘syngas.’ This syngas is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

In the next step, the carbon monoxide in the syngas reacts with steam in a process known as ‘shift conversion,’ forming CO2 and more hydrogen. The CO2 is then separated, often using physical solvents or sorbents, and can be compressed and transported for storage.

Oxy-fuel Combustion

Oxy-fuel combustion is a process where the fuel is not burned in air, but in pure oxygen or oxygen-enriched air. The high concentration of oxygen results in a flue gas that is primarily CO2 and water vapor, with significantly lower levels of nitrogen and other gasses.

After combustion, the water vapor is condensed by cooling the flue gas, leaving nearly pure CO2. This CO2 can then be compressed and transported for storage, without needing to separate it from other gasses.

Each of these capture methods has its advantages and trade-offs in terms of cost, energy requirements, and suitability for different types of industrial processes or power generation. However, they all share a common goal: to prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere and contribute to global efforts to mitigate climate change.

Transportation of Captured CO2

Once the CO2 has been successfully captured and compressed into a liquid-like state, it needs to be transported to a suitable storage location. This transportation can be a complex process, requiring extensive infrastructure and careful consideration of environmental and safety issues.

Pipelines specifically designed for CO2 transport are the most common method used. These pipelines are constructed to handle the high pressures needed to keep CO2 in its liquid-like state, and their design considers various safety measures to prevent leaks and ensure the CO2 doesn’t escape into the atmosphere. 

This network of pipelines can span hundreds or even thousands of kilometers, depending on the distance between the CO2 capture site and the storage location.

Alternatively, if the source and the storage site are not well connected by pipelines, or if the transport distances are vast, shipping may be used. In this case, CO2 is transported in specially designed ships, similar to those used for liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Storage of Captured CO2

The final step in the Carbon Capture and Storage process is securely storing the captured CO2 in a way that it will not enter the atmosphere. The most common method for storing CO2 is in deep geological formations, typically one to three kilometers beneath the Earth’s surface.

There are three primary types of geological formations suitable for CO2 storage:

  • Depleted oil and gas fields: These are reservoirs that have already had their economically recoverable hydrocarbons extracted. They have proven capability to retain fluids for long geological periods, making them reliable storage sites for CO2.
  • Deep saline formations: These formations are porous rocks filled with brine, typically located deeper than freshwater resources. They are believed to have the largest storage capacity among all storage types.
  • Unmineable coal seams: CO2 can be stored in coal seams that are too deep to be mined economically. The CO2 is adsorbed onto the coal surface, displacing methane, which can be captured and used.

To ensure the safety and effectiveness of CO2 storage, monitoring measures are employed. These include seismic monitoring, wellbore monitoring, and surface air and water monitoring.

The Role of CCS in Energy Portals

In the context of global energy, Carbon Capture and Storage plays a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As per the International Energy Agency (IEA), CCS could potentially contribute to around one-fifth of the needed emissions reductions by 2050.

Indeed, CCS represents a crucial bridge between the fossil fuel-dependent present and a sustainable, low-carbon future. It allows industries and power generators to continue operation while significantly reducing their CO2 emissions, thereby playing a vital role in the transition to cleaner energy sources.

However, the path of CCS in energy portals worldwide is continually evolving, with a host of technological advancements, economic and regulatory challenges, and major milestones marking its progress. The timeline of this fascinating and complex journey will be examined in more detail in the following section of this article.

The Journey Continues for Carbon Capture

As we navigate the complex challenges of climate change, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) continues to offer a beacon of hope, tracing an unfolding timeline in energy portals worldwide. 

From its initial steps of capturing CO2 emissions at their source to the complex process of transportation and safe geological storage, CCS is paving the way for significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

While the process is not without its challenges, advancements in technology and increasing global commitment to a more sustainable future mean that CCS is continually evolving and improving. As it plays an increasingly pivotal role in our global energy infrastructure, the importance of CCS in meeting our climate targets cannot be overstated.

As we move towards 2050, the role of CCS is expected to expand dramatically, potentially accounting for up to a fifth of necessary emissions reductions. 

With every technological breakthrough, policy development, and successful project implementation, we edge closer to a future where CCS is a standard part of our energy landscape, helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change and secure a more sustainable world.

The journey of carbon capture is still unfolding, and the next chapters promise to be crucial ones in our global story of energy transition and climate action. By tracing the path of CCS, we can not only appreciate the progress we’ve made but also illuminate the road ahead. 

In the realm of energy portals, carbon capture and storage indeed presents a timeline of unfolding possibilities, a narrative of hope that echoes with every molecule of carbon dioxide we prevent from reaching our atmosphere.

Written By
Gesten Van Der Post

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