Taking a port-wide approach to emissions
Ports could take centre stage in creating successful carbon capture and storage projects. Felicity Landon reports.
A shortage of high-grade carbon dioxide in Europe led to the prospect of beer rationing this summer. That certainly focused minds on the topic of CO2, but not for quite the right reasons.
Of course, there were suggestions that beer and fizzy drinks factories could surely solve the problem of excess CO2 being released into the atmosphere. The reality is more complex.
“Four million tonnes is the average annual requirement from industry, catering, etc., for CO2 in the whole of Europe,” says John Scowcroft, executive adviser at the Global Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Institute. “That is probably less than the annual output of four large power stations. Using CO2 isn't going to solve the problem.”
The required CO2 - also in demand for use in fire extinguishers, air conditioning, meat production, dry ice and even in greenhouses to encourage plant growth - is a 100% pure by-product from the manufacture of ammonia for fertiliser production. What comes out of a coal-fired power station is hardly comparable.
And yet, there is a common factor. “Industrial clusters tend to be around ports,” says Mr Scowcroft. “And industrial clusters generally have fairly high CO2 emissions.”
The Port of Rotterdam, he points out, is not only a harbour operation; it is also a hub of industrial activity. As such, the port produces around 20% of the Netherlands' total emissions. “The Dutch government has very ambitious emissions reduction targets, going to virtually zero by 2050. Whichever way the port turns, it is in the firing line with its 20%.”
Rotterdam was one of the first ports to consider a carbon capture and storage project, through the ROAD project - co-financed by the Dutch government, the European Commission and the Global CCS Institute, which produced a special report on the proposals in 2013.
The ROAD project proposed piping the captured CO2 into the North Sea for storage in an accessible gas field, says Mr Scowcroft. “It didn't make it through the final investment - but now the port is picking this up again.”
Rotterdam is looking at developing a CCS 'backbone' project with basic infrastructure for transport and storage of CO2. This follows the findings of a feasibility study undertaken by the port authority in partnership with Gasunie and EBN; the study found that CO2 capture, transport and storage in empty oil and gas fields in the North Sea seabed is technically feasible and a cost-effective measure to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change.
The partners have been in discussions with a number of companies in the chemical and refineries sectors about the possibilities. The ambition is to store 2m tonnes of CO2 per year from 2020, with the volume increasing up to 5m tonnes per year by 2030. Rotterdam's industrial sector is said to have released a total of nearly 30m tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2015.
But in addition, the partners want to supply a higher volume of CO2 to horticultural and other industrial users. Alco and Shell already supply CO2 via pipeline to greenhouses in the Westland region. Time to remember those biology lessons on photosynthesis: the CO2 speeds up crop growth.
In May this year, Antwerp Port Authority also stepped into the CCS arena, announcing a partnership with gas infrastructure operator Fluxys. The partners “believe strongly that carbon capture, storage and re-use by industry is an important weapon in the fight against climate change”, they said.
As a first phase, they will study the feasibility of solutions for capturing CO2 from industry in the port, transporting it by pipeline or ship, and then re-using or storing it. If the study is positive, the plan is jointly to promote practical projects. The message is the same: Belgium's climate target is to reduce CO2 emissions by 35% by 2030, “a formidable challenge”, say the partners.
“Fluxys sees carbon capture and storage/use (CCS/U) as an important weapon in the fight against climate change, besides the use of renewable gases (biomethane, green hydrogen, synthetic methane) which all have a valuable role to play in a future decarbonised energy system,” says a spokesman for Fluxys.
The CCS/U technology aims at capturing the CO2 and storing it underground or using it - for example, via the methanation process, in which CO2 is recombined with hydrogen from power-to-gas installations to produce synthetic methane, he says. “The technology will be instrumental in meeting the Paris Agreement target to limit global warming to well below 2ºC.”
Fluxys and the Port of Antwerp will determine whether CCS/U is technically and economically feasible, he says, taking into account all elements of the CCS/U chain (identification of CO2 emitters, choice of capture method, building of a local transmission network, use of CO2 in the port and storage options).
The port has put great efforts into becoming more sustainable over the past few years, said Antwerp Port Authority chief executive Jacques Vandermeiren when the partnership was announced. “When it comes to CO2 emissions, however, a port-wide approach is needed,” he said.
The Global CCS Institute was founded by the Australian Government nine years ago, with the objective of accelerating the deployment and commercial operation of CCS. Based in Melbourne, it now has an international membership.
There are about 17 CCS projects operational worldwide and another four or five due to come online in the next two years, says Mr Scowcroft. “CCS has three elements - capture, transport and storage - and each part is proven and well established.
“The 'capture' bit has been used by the oil industry for years; Norway has stored some 20m tonnes of CO2 since 1997. There are some 4,000 kilometres of CO2 pipeline in the US. So we have a group of technologies that are well known and understood.
“The North Sea provides well known and well proven storage capacity. Ports around the North Sea are interested in that. The other point is you can move CO2 around by ship to storage sites. LNG arrives from a number of locations, as liquid under pressure. Why can't CO2 go out in the same way?”
The real challenge, he says, is not the technology but putting the business case in place. “It is a joint effort. A major source of emissions from ports is actually the industry in the ports. Shipping itself is a pretty major source of CO2 emissions.
“I think ports can be the facilitators - they can play a significant role because they are natural clusters with a high concentration of industrial emissions. They can help develop a shared CCS network and infrastructure and they can create a CO2 hub - a collection source of CO2 from many industrial plants. This shared infrastructure will help reduce the cost of deploying CCS.
“Another important aspect is that CCS can also create important business opportunities for ports while creating and retaining jobs.”
However, he says, the real driver has to come from the industries themselves. They need to recognise they have to decarbonise - and there are other challenges related to the allocation of risk, liability and shared costs.
“It is a chicken-and-egg situation. I am not going to capture the CO2 if I don't have anyone who is going to take it away and store it for me. But I am not going to create the necessary transport and storage capacity unless someone has the CO2 for me to take away.
“There is a need for co-operation, otherwise nothing will start. Utilisation of CO2 is positive but it doesn't solve the real issue. There is an absolute need not to put the excess CO2 into the atmosphere. One Coca Cola plant just isn't going to do it.”
ACTION ON CO2 STORAGE
Several industries are looking into carbon capture and storage to reduce their emissions, reports the Global CCS Institute. One example is the cement industry, where the Norcem project has received funding from the Norwegian government.
The LEILAC (Low Emissions Intensity Lime And Cement) is an EU Horizon 2020 research project, piloting carbon capture technology at a Heidelberg Cement plant in Lixhe, Belgium.
In the UK, the Teesside Collective is a cluster of energy-intensive industries looking to establish Teesside as a prime location for future clean development by creating a CCS-equipped industrial zone.
Teesside Collective, which has gained support from business organisations, environmental groups, the public sector and academics, is looking to “geologically store” millions of tonnes of CO2 per year.
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