Alabama and Mississippi blog: The South as climate technology frontrunners

Bellona's Sirin Engen visits CCS projects in the US. (Photo: Bellona)
Bellona's Sirin Engen visits CCS projects in the US. (Photo: Bellona)
Sirin Engen

Publish date: June 24, 2015

"Almost two weeks in the Southern US states confirmed that the North American CCS train has left the station, while Europe is still trying to buy a ticket" writes Sirin Engen, CCS Adviser at the Bellona Foundation.

It became clear during my participation in the RECS (Research Experience in Carbon Sequestration) program between 7 and 16 July that climate policy and technology development are the clearest drivers for CCS technologies in the leading CCS countries. RECS is the premiere CCS education and training experience in the US.  The program combines classroom instruction with group exercises, CCUS site visits and hands-on field activities that cover the range of science, technology, policy, and business topics associated with CCUS deployment.

In the conservative South of the US anthropogenic climate change might not be the most popular topic for discussion, and it seems obvious that climate considerations are not the main drivers behind the vast CCS developments happening there. Under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Government attempts to reduce CO2 emissions from new and existing power plants by introducing carbon pollution standards. This and other clear political signals regarding the standards that will be implemented in the future, have spurred the investments in CO2 capture in heavily coal-dependent parts of the country.

Through the development of using CO2 for Enhanced Oil Recovery onshore in the US, the American fossil sector has also gained world-class experience in handling CO2. This, in addition to the incentive in being a first-mover on technology, has contributed to the large CCS deployment in the US compared to other parts of the world.

This year the RECS program included visits to three of the most important CCS projects in the US. Hereunder to what will become the world’s second full-scale CCS project; the Southern Company Kemper County IGCC project in Mississippi. The 582 MW pre-combustion IGCC plant is scheduled to come online in the middle of 2016 and will be the first of its kind in the world. Southern Company intends to capture 65 percent of the plants CO2 emission and sell it for EOR.

The South of the US is also home to the nation’s only CO2 capture technology center, the National Carbon Capture Center in Alabama, which develops and tests technologies from coal-based power plants.

In addition, Plant Barry in Mobile, Alabama, represents the only project in the world that provides capture, transport and permanent storage of CCS. Here 150 000 tons of CO2 is captured and stored annually, and has done so successfully since 2012, from a 25MW slip stream. Although this is a small-scale project it provides valuable experience and technology development for the entire CCS value-chain.

Hopefully, the North American developments will appeal to European politicians’ competitive nature and ensure that Europe is onboard the train when the most important technologies to mitigation climate change deploys.