Carbon capture and storage takes centre stage at Brussels Green Week

Participants in the seminar, which took place at Parc du Cinquantenaire as part of the Green Week Exhibition, organized by the European Commission (EC), ranged from an eminent British Geologist, an EC representative, and Bellona experts. The primary thrust of their presentations was laying the foundation for building new technology and creating a legislative framework in which to build and implement CSS.

Bellona is part of the ZEP Platform, which was started by the EC in 2005 to bring together industry, NGOs and scientists to give advise on CCS. ZEP had a exhibit in the Green Week Exhibition, which ran for two weeks.

This presented an excellent opportunity for ZEP platform members to inform the public about the work they are carrying out, as well as the general progress of CCS technology to fight climate change. ZEP and Bellona arranged a mini-seminar on June 14th, with key experts on CCS as speakers.

Beate Kristiansen, who leads Bellona’s energy section, opened the seminar with a general introduction to CCS, and why it is an important tool to fight global warming. She stressed the importance of CCS as a "bridge" to renewable energy production, and the possibilities CCS offers when it comes to rapid mitigation efforts.

Kristiansen maintained that CCS is only one of the efforts that should be applied. Further development of renewable energy sources and efficiency in the use of energy is equally important to meet the challenges of global warming, she said.

The question of carbon storage
The British geologist Nick Riley addressed the question of storing carbon dioxide in underground repoitories. Some of the listeners questioned the safety of storing carbon underground. But Riley addressed the concerns with a practical example of water storage. He suggested the audience squeeze water out of a rag – a task that proved to be impossible. Once water is absorbed, the best you can do is wring it and it remains damp as water gets stuck in the pores of the fabric.

An analogous situation arises underground, Riley explained. Carbon dioxide gets trapped in deep saline formations that do not leak water – in the same way pores in a water rag will not leak. He presented several options for carbon storage sights, and assured that the technology works – it is just a question of will and money.

Riley gave many examples of the safety of storage, and compared storage of carbon dioxide to that of natural gas. Today natural gas is stored close to inhabited areas. A prime example is the large gas storage sight in Berlin, right under the new Olympic Stadium, host of football World Cup games in 2006.

Natural gas is a stronger green house gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). It is also potentially explosive, whereas CO2 pose no such danger. Carbon dioxide is also emitted naturally from volcanic activity, over and under the sea surface. This shows that a potential leak from a carbon dioxide storage sight poses no larger a threat than natural gas storage leakages or volcanic activity.

Clean energy chain
Aage Stangeland from Bellona presented another aspect of CCS technology – the potential to produce almost pollution free energy. Hydrogen fuel cells offer a cleaner fuel for transportation. In use, the only emission created is water. The problem of producing hydrogen energy is that it is usually made from natural gas, a source of high-level carbon dioxide emissions. By capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the natural gas, it is possible to produce hydrogen in a cleaner way, and thus drastically reduce emissions in the transport sector

Another promising feature of CCS technology is to link it to the production of energy from biomass. Bio energy is carbon neutral by definition because biomass will release carbon dioxide in any case. When emissions are captured and stored, it then brings the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to minus. These technologies show the great potential of the technology to drastically cut emission.

Legislative framework

Scott Brockett of the EC Directorate General for the Environment, spoke of legislation proposed by the EU to deploy CCS technology. The EC has followed up on the recommendations of ZEP and will propose concrete legislation by the end of 2007. The initial plan is to establish 12 full-scale power plants fitted with CCS technology by 2015, and from 2020 the EC hopes to have all new power plants operating with the technology.

Bellona cannot stress enough how important it is that fossil fuel power plants need to have CCS technology in the transition to a more sustainable energy mix. Eighty percent of the world’s energy demand is covered by fossil fuel resources today, and the demand is growing. Public events like the Green Week ZEP exhibit will help increase knowledge and understanding of CCS technology – and there is no time to lose.

Niklas Kalvø Tessem

niklas@bellona.no