Carbon capture and storage (CCS) in geological formations is a promising tool for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to the atmosphere. As the name suggests, there are two core processes involved here - the capture of carbon dioxide at its source, and its subsequent storage in such a way as to prevent its entry into the atmosphere. However, there is a vital link connecting these two elements - transportation. If CCS is to become a viable option for low-carbon power generation, its deployment will require the construction of dedicated CO2 transport infrastructure in Europe (JRC 2014).1 While considerable research effort has been focused on capture and storage, relatively little has been directed towards filling the knowledge gaps in CO2 handling and transportation in a safe and economically efficient manner from generation point to storage site.
CO2 pipelines have been in operation in the US, Europe and North Africa since the 1980s - transporting pure CO2 for enhanced hydrocarbon recovery. However, due to the effects of the various impurities contained in flue gases, it cannot be assumed that knowledge and experience regarding the transportation of pure CO2 can be transferred to the design challenges presented by the transportation of anthropogenic CO2 mixtures (Spinelli, 2011).2 Consequently, dedicated research into the transport of CO2 from flue gases is required. In addition to research into the infrastructure needs for the safe transportation of CO2, there are also financial, legal, environmental and societal acceptance hurdles that need to be evaluated and overcome to ensure that an optimal solution for the transportation of CO2 is achieved.
It was to address these and other challenges that the CO2Europipe project - ‘Towards a transport infrastructure for large-scale CCS in Europe’ - was set up in 2009. The aim of the project, which was completed in 2011, was to define the optimal path towards a large-scale CO2 transport infrastructure for Europe. To achieve this, it aimed to describe the infrastructure required for large-scale transport of CO2, while taking into consideration the options for re-use of existing natural gas infrastructure that is expected to be slowly phased out in the coming decades. The project also aimed to provide advice on how to remove any organisational and other hurdles to the realisation of large-scale CO2 infrastructure, and develop a business case for a series of realistic scenarios to study both initial CCS projects and their coalescence into larger-scale CCS infrastructure. Finally, the project aimed to demonstrate the need for international cooperation on CCS and summarise all findings in terms of actions to be taken by the EU and national governments to facilitate and optimise the development of large-scale CCS infrastructure.
To begin with, the project conducted an evaluation of existing infrastructure and standards, regulations and modes of practice to ascertain to what extent CO2 transport can benefit from them. It was concluded that, in principle, existing pipelines could be used to transport CO2, but that most of these pipelines would be given over to the transportation of natural gas for years to come and would not be available for CO2 transport. Furthermore, when they do become available, in most cases they will have a pressure rating too low to accommodate dense phase CO2 transport, which means that they are not an economically viable solution for high-pressure CO2 transport when compared with newly built pipelines.
The CO2EuroPipe project also examined whether the current worldwide gas tanker fleet is capable of transporting CO2 on a large scale, in liquefied, solid or gaseous form. It concluded that of the existing fleet of 1,300 gas carriers, only 34 could be used for CO2 transport. These vessels are technically capable of transporting CO2, although they would have to be converted for this use. As with pipelines, however, the project found that, from a commercial point of view, CO2 transport by newly built dedicated CO2 carriers is probably the best option.
The CO2Europipe project found that there is a current bias towards offshore storage which, if it continues, will be reflected in a bias towards transport infrastructure to support this option. This will have an impact the cost of CCS, as allowing onshore storage would result in significantly lower overall costs due to shorter transport distances. These findings were confirmed in a separate study that looked at two scenarios - with and without onshore aquifer storage (Kjärstad et al, 2013)3. This study showed that transport costs increase significantly when storage in aquifers is restricted to offshore reservoirs, with the result that total investment for the pan-European system more than doubles - from EUR 31 billion with onshore aquifers to EUR 71 billion without.
The EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) is the mechanism by which the EU may create the financial basis for CCS projects. However, the price of CO2 is not expected to increase sufficiently rapidly to render CCS commercially feasible. Consequently, the CO2Europipe researchers recommended that additional mechanisms be put in place to support the development of CCS projects after the first wave of demonstration projects. They also recommended that the EU provide financial guarantees to further increase the attractiveness of CO2 transport projects for investors.
A report published by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre4 found that the development of a trans-European transport network will require advanced planning to ensure optimal design, taking into consideration the anticipated volumes of CO2 that will have to be transported in the medium and long term and the location of CO2 sources and sinks. This network will require coordination between national authorities. The CO2Europipe project also concluded that, given the international character of CCS, strong co-operation would be required between Member States, along with clear signals at a pan-European level to encourage CCS development. A robust policy roadmap, or equivalent, is fundamentally important for private industry and the public sector alike to efficiently manage the financial and associated risks, and continued leadership at European level in providing this guiding framework will significantly reduce the uncertainties currently facing potential CCS developments.
CO2Europipe recommended that one of the ways in which the EU and Member States can support the development of CCS is through the development and maintenance of Master Plans. These will provide information regarding the timing and size of expected volumes of captured CO2 together with the planned locations for storage. This will help alignment within the industry, focus efforts and improve the efficiency of network development. At the EU level, a CCS Master Plan is recommended as part of the energy infrastructures plan. At the Member State level, the Master Plans should include cross-border issues and set the timeline for the development of capture efforts and infrastructure construction while also providing relevant information on storage. The researchers stress that these Master Plans will provide the EU and Member States with clarity of vision on the development of CCS and help disseminate information so that industry may reduce the perceived risk associated with developing CCS projects. While planning is undoubtedly important, in real terms not much progress has been made on the implementation of CO2 transport projects in Europe. For CO2 transport projects to make the jump from the planning stage to practical implementation it will be necessary to adopt a more proactive approach to incentivising carbon capture and storage technologies and providing the necessary financial guarantees to attract investors.
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