Ukraine must clear CCS hurdles now lest it run into a brick wall later

Keith Whiriskey, Bellona Oslo’s adviser on CCS, Monday introduced his research in a paper entitled “Carbon Capture and Storage: Ukrainian Perspectives on Industry and Energy Security“ (download PDF at right) to a cross section of government and NGO representatives at a gathering held at Ukraine’s Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry. A full Ukrainian-language report was distributed to the Ministry and the event’s attendees (also downloadable at right).

[picture1 {The Ukrainian-language versions of Whiriskey’s ‘Carbon Capture and Storage: Ukrainian Perspectives on Industry and Energy Security.’}]

The presentation was received enthusiastically, sparking constructive conversation among Ukrainian and European energy heavyweights both at the Bellona event at the Ministry, and the reception dinner that followed.

Larisa Bronder, Bellona’s adviser on Eastern European pollution issues, will continue throughout the week to stump for Ukrainian CCS at the Ukraine’s Green Mind Forum, one of the country’s most significant environmental gatherings.

[picture2 {Bellona’s Keith Whiriskey presents ‘Carbon Capture and Storage: Ukrainian Perspectives on Industry and Energy Security’ at Ukraine’s Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry.} right]

As the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry’s name suggests, there is little doubt that Ukraine will continue for the next several decades to rely on coal, gas and oil as its primary sources of heat and electricity. With 56.7 billion tons of coal reserves alone in the Ukraine, the notion of weaning the nation off fossil fuels in the mid-range future is nearly hopeless.

The future deployment of CCS will thus be the only means to significantly reduce CO2 emissions while enabling the use of domestic coal resources.

[picture3 {The gathering at the Ministry of Ukrainian energy heavyweights.}]

But Whiriskey said that the raw materials for the successful introduction of carbon capture and storage technologies in Ukraine already exist in the country, and adopting them would not only be profitable at a domestic level, but would help free Ukraine from the apron strings of Russian energy imports.

Further, the synthesis of these rudimentary building blocks would provide an economic boost for the country and also be cheaper than other carbon-free sources of energy, such as nuclear, that many other countries are clamoring for to meet the carbon emissions cuts that are more than likely to become mandatory in light of recent UN findings.

Indeed, CCS does far more to contribute to emissions cuts by 2050 that would fall within the 2 degree Celsius temperature rise most international climate bodies agree is the highest spike the world can endure than nuclear power and even power generation efficiency and end-use fuel switching.

Ukraine’s time for CCS is now

By Whiriskey’s estimation, a CCS demonstration plant should begin operation in Ukraine within six years, and the technology must be efficiently deployed nationally by 2030, especially given the lack of energy alternatives currently on Kiev’s mind. His assertion was backed up by a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). 

“The situation of CCS in Ukraine is characteristic of other countries where economic growth has to occur alongside global CO2 reductions,” Whiriskey told the gathering, which was a who’s who of Ukraine’s energy, economic, and environmental policymakers. The audience also included representatives of Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, Vaclav Voracek, its liaison to the European Union, and Norway’s Ambassador to the Ukraine, Jon Elvedal Frederiksen.

[picture4 {Norwegian Ambassador to Ukraine, Jon Elvedal Fredriksen.} right]

CCS used in concert with energy efficiency measures and renewables development would be Ukraine’s most viable solution, said Whiriskey’s report.

“CCS is often seen as an expensive and labor intensive process, but Ukraine’s circumstances are such that the technology must be put open for debate among the public and policymakers,” Whiriskey said.  

Ambassador Frederiksen acknowledged in his introductory remarks for Bellona that the organization has a tendency to throw down environmental gauntlets.

“Bellona not only works with the government in Norway, but also criticizes the Norwegian Government to do better, and challenges the international community to do better,” Frederiksen said. “They have worked to show how to use technology for the environment.”

As such, Whiriskey posed four strategies to get CCS up and running in Ukraine; making CCS technology mandatory for any new fossil fuel power plants; developing an energy policy that is more accommodating to CCS possibilities; using Ukraine’s native gas transport system for carbon transport, and, most importantly, putting CCS in the center of the country’s energy debate.

How to debate and apply CCS in Ukraine

Though the concept of CCS is not unknown among the local political and business community, some dozen local journalists Bellona spoke to earlier on Monday said it has yet to become a national priority in the formulation of Kiev’s energy policy.

[picture5 {Bellona’s Whiriskey and Bronder speaking with Ukrainian national television.}]

As international rules on emissions become more strict in the wake of the latest UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) Fifth Assessment Report, not only will Ukraine’s fossil driven energy sector have to rope in its emissions, but CO2 produced by its intensive steel and iron industries will also have to be capped, practically forcing Kiev to put CCS in place, Whiriskey said.

But much of the infrastructure Ukraine would require for the adequate capture of carbon and its sequestration is already there. The former Soviet republic is crisscrossed with thousands of kilometers of gas pipelines that could easily be used to transport highly pressurized carbon dioxide from is sources to storage, and much of heavily industrialized eastern Ukraine has suitable repositories in which to store the greenhouse gas for centuries to come.

The University of Donetsk in Southeastern Ukraine has gone a long way toward mapping out potential carbon storage sites in the country’s industrial belt.

And there’s huge profit in it for Ukraine. Pumping highly pressurized CO2 into eastern Ukraine’s aged oil wells would force more crude to the surface, which could be brought to market. At the same time, this would trap the carbon dioxide underground – a process known as enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Such a system is a fixture in US oil drilling, and oil majors pay well for the greenhouse gas.

According to Whiriskey’s figures, oil majors in the US pay $30 to $40 per ton of CO2 for EOR, amounting to a bumper business in CO2. EOR would produce more crude from Ukraine’s wells whose production is flagging, supplanting more native oil with oil imported from Russia.

And, when properly fitted with CCS technology, Ukraine’s monolithic steel and iron works could retool with relative ease and contribute to producing pipelines and other large industrial structures needed for the transport and storage of CO2.

“Essentially, all the different elements of Ukraine’s energy economy just need a little direction in order to establish CCS as an essential industrial technology both at home and abroad,” said Whiriskey. “It’s all here – it just needs to be efficiently brought together.”

This would draw Ukraine’s steel and iron further into competitive international markets. The European Union has staggering plans for CCS deployment over the next 30 to 40 years calling for some €28 billion in new pipelines – which could mean a huge infusion of jobs and climate friendly income for Ukrainian industry.

Other financing, however, will be essential. Whiriskey pointed out that the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, which has boosted CCS efforts in Poland – and which are coming to fruition more slowly than hoped – is anxious to see its investments in Eastern European carbon mitigation technologies gain traction.

Bellona in 2011 launched a comprehensive CCS Roadmap for Poland, a country that is 95 percent dependent on hard coal, or lignite, for its energy generation needs. Bellona has yet to chart a roadmap for Ukraine, but is investigating a number of potential financing mechanisms.

“At present, our goal is to provide an alternative (with CCS) to Ukrainian policy makers,” said Whiriskey.

Applications to old plants

Of concern to energy journalists who attended Bellona’s press breakfast earlier in the day is what CCS would mean for both Soviet era and other aged European coal-fired works. Would CCS be their death knell or could they be retrofitted for use with CCS technology?

Whiriskey said that a visit in April to the the Boundary Dam Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Demonstration Project in Southeastern Saskatchewan, Canada. Boundary Dam is a $1.4 billion project to retrofit the plant’s aged coal-fired unit 3 with carbon capture and an enhanced oil recovery system.

The plant required upgrades before it could be retrofitted with the CCS demonstration technologies. But Whiriskey said that the situation with the formerly tumble down Boundary Dam plant is similar to that of the Uglegorskaya coal-fired thermal power plant in Ukraine’s Donetsk, which in March was hit by a fire.

“One could definitely renew that plant for use with CCS technologies, no problem,” said Whiriskey. “The Boundardy Dam plant had to be renewed.”

Speaking later at the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry, Whiriskey, however, did note that that CCS implementation in Ukraine would not come without its fair share of hurdles, but said that those roadblocks must be cleared in order not face insurmountable ones later.

“I accept that there are difficulties but CCS must be introduced at this early stage, unless the Ukraine wants to find itself in a world that is that much warmer world without the option of availing itself of CCS,” he said.

Charles Digges