Unlikely that Mongstad CCS demonstration plant should be delayed, despite Statoil reservations

On Tuesday, October 5, Norway’s Petroleum and Energy Ministry (MPE) released a statement saying they are considering opening up alternative treatment technologies for the Mongstad gas fired powerplant. The reason, said the group, is that Statoil considers the research to suggest a possibly unacceptable risk posed by the level of nitrosamines in treatment plant, which they claim to be higher than previously assumed.

This announcement, says Bellona, puts a hitch in the works of getting Norway’s first pilot carbon capture and storage (CSS) plant operational by posing questions about dangers that have already been taken into consideration and will be researched during the test period at the plant before industrial CCS is implemented.

Time factors for getting the Mongstad operation under a CCS regime are crucial, and Bellona demands that Statoil, the major contractor on the project, make publicly known any evidence it possesses that would slow the pilot project’s deployment.

No evidence necessitating postponement

Statoil’s proposal to the MPE came in a September 27 letter. Bellona has re-examined this letter and the reports that it refers to, and have found, like SINTEF – Scandinavia’s largest independent research organization – and Aker Clean Carbon, no evidence for Statoil’s claims.

Bellona is scratching its head over the group’s initiatives and speculation that the project may be further postponed, and demands that the Statoil disclose any additional information on which it is basing its evaluations.

“If the group is sitting on new information that it has not made public, they must stop their secrecy immediately,” says Erlend Fjøsna, technical advisor in Bellona. “This is one of the most important environmental and industrial projects underway in Norway today, and the public are entitled to know the basis for critical decisions.”

Fjøsne believes that the groups proposal creates unnecessary uncertainty about an issue that both researchers and suppliers believe is manageable.

Known issues

Using amines in fossil fuel fired plants is just one of many methods for separating CO2 out of its emissions so the greenhouse gas can be transported and stored safely. Until recently, amines have been considered the best candidates for carbon capture and storage projects at Mongstad.

It is not the amines themselves that are the unfortunate part of the equation but rather so-called nitrosamines, which are formed when other substances are mixed with amines. Nitrosamines have long been associated with health risks. The substance group occurs naturally in a variety of foods, and every day, people consume many micrograms of these compounds, which can lead to stomach and bowel cancer.

“The possibility of potentially harmful amine emissions from CO2 capture plant at Mongstad has been a theme that both the environmental movement and suppliers of fishing technology have been concerned from day one,”  continues Fjøsne, adding that worries about the nitrosamines associated with the carbon capture and storage project at Mongstad are nothing new.

Emissions can be cut

Fjøsne says that much research remains before all necessary knowledge on nitrosamine emissions are known, but that there is currently sufficient knowledge to optimize the process in which nitrosamines are formed and with this knowledge, emissions can be reduced to a reasonable level.

One step is to limit the concentration of nitrous oxide, or NOx, gases in emissions. These gases are important for the formation of nitrosamines, and less NOx therefore means less harmful emissions. Furthermore, it is possible, if it should prove necessary, to cull the remaining nitrosamines which will be formed.

“In the field of research is important to include more information about how amines behave in the atmosphere, developing amines with low environmental impact, ensuring proper disposal of amine waste, developing capture with minimal air emissions and establishing a proper regulatory framework,” said Fjøsna.

There is time to investigate

Bellona believes that it is crucial that questions of health must have priority, but is not worried that this will delay the process of building a full-scale emissions treatment plant at Mongstad.

Fjøsna points out that a commercial CCS plant is not expected until 2020, and that the test period of the pilot plant at Mongstad will continue until 2014. Only then will a decision be made as to whether to implement industrial scale CO2 sequestration there.

“With today’s extensive research programs, all major gaps in knowledge around issues amine will be filled by 2020, “said Fjøsna, adding that the test period at Mongstad will allow much new information to come to light.

“There is therefore no reason to expect that the missing information will delay efforts to make CCS technology commercially available” he said.

This is consistent with the conclusion of a report (downloadable to right) by Bellona published in autumn 2009.

“Use of appropriate technology and further research can ensure that emissions are negligible,” said former Bellona adviser Aage Stangeland at the report’s launch.

Statoil excluded other technologies

It was Statoil and Gassnova themselves who decided that only companies that uses amine-based water treatment technology are appropriate for the project. In June, Statoil’s vice president for full-scale projects at Mongstad told Teknisk Ukeblad that “participation in the pre-qualification is only relevant for suppliers of amine-based technology.”

“There are other methods, such as using chilled ammonia in the wastewater treatment plant, which is also ripe to be used in a full-scale project,” says Fjøsna. “We therefore believe that it was unwise that only companies with amine-based solutions were pre-qualified.”