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Global carbon capture hopes may have to be moderated, Total CEO warns


Pioneering Northern Lights project heavily subsidized

Total eyes new CCS project at Antwerp or in Zeeland

CO2 transportation could be an issue for China

Chevron CEO also sees obstacles for CCS

London — Expectations of carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a tool for curbing CO2 emissions may have to be moderated, with projects most likely to succeed in major industrial clusters close to offshore storage sites, and currently requiring heavy government subsidy, Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne said Oct. 14.

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Speaking at the Energy Intelligence Forum, Pouyanne said CCS had a role to play in all current plans for climate change mitigation, and Total was considering a new carbon capture and storage project either in Antwerp or at the Zeeland refinery in the Netherlands, which it owns with Russia's Lukoil.

He highlighted the role of government subsidy in an existing project, Norway's Northern Lights, in which Total is a partner with Shell and state-controlled Equinor, estimating the Norwegian government was carrying 70%-80% of the cost in the first phase, ahead of a hoped-for expansion.

To be economic on its own, the first phase of Northern Lights would require carbon prices of around $150/mt, far above current carbon prices, even without the cost of the carbon capture process, Pouyanne said.

The first phase was approved by the investors in May and is due to store 1.5 million mt of CO2 a year by 2024, utilizing CO2 from a cement plant and a waste-to-energy incinerator, both in southern Norway, with hopes of bringing in additional CO2 by sea. The CO2 is to be injected in offshore geological formations.

"Without the Norwegian government we would never have invested," Pouyanne said. "What we are discovering in that scheme is that it's not only a notion of capturing or storing, we need also to connect all that because you don't have the storage under your feet. This infrastructure network in Norway is costing quite a lot."

"Phase 2 of Northern Lights, when we will be able to double the number of customers, or to attract CO2 from other places in Europe, could be economically viable at a cost of $80/mt, without the capture. Today we are more at $150/mt without the capture, so just the scale is important," he said.

"The second lesson is that it makes a lot of sense to think about CCS when you have a large pool of emitters, Rotterdam, Antwerp, and if possible near shore," he said, referring to public opposition to onshore storage of CO2.

Pouyanne added the complexities of linking up sources of emissions with storage sites could be an obstacle for China's plans to integrate multiple coal-fired power plants with CCS. "This will be the difficulty for the Chinese to connect all their coal-fired power plants," he said.

On carbon capture and storage in general, he said: "It's a matter of scale in order to make it profitable. My bet is it will be developed maybe not as big as people expect."

Chevron's Gorgon

The obstacles for carbon capture as a means of mitigating climate change were also noted by Chevron CEO Mike Wirth, earlier at the same event, on Oct. 13. He said his company's CCS project at the Gorgon gas field in Australia had specific advantages over projects designed to capture carbon from combustion processes such as power generation. The Gorgon CCS project began operating in 2019.

"We've got some advantages. We're capturing CO2 from the gas stream, so it's a relatively concentrated stream. We can use well-established technologies...then we've got access to depleted reservoirs with lots of pore space, so a set of conditions come together there that you don't see everywhere," Wirth said.

"I think we're going to need to see technology developments particularly in carbon capture on more dilute CO2 streams, particularly combustion streams," he said.

"We're going to need to understand how to work the infrastructure side of this and then of course the sub-surface, which we understand technically, but the legal framework, the liability framework, the policy framework to enable long-term carbon storage, still needs work."