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DOE hopes to see carbon capture costs cut 50%; NETL says it has stored 10 million mt of CO2

Highlights

Assistant Secretary says $30/mt is capture cost target

NETL monitoring sealed wells, so far no leaks

Houston — The US Department of Energy's Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy said June 10 in a webcast that the cost of capturing carbon needs to be reduced by 50% down to about $30/mt to facilitate greater use of carbon capture, utilization and storage, or CCUS.

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In the same webcast, an official from the DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory, or NETL, said more than 10 million mt of CO2 has thus far been captured and buried in mile-deep containment wells in the US, and that "no leaks" have yet been seen.

NETL Assistant Secretary Steve Winberg and senior research fellow Grant Bromhal both spoke on the webcast on Innovation in Carbon Management, which was hosted by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, or CSIS, a Washington DC-based think tank.

Winberg said "for decades," carbon capture utilization and sequestration was "geared almost exclusively toward capturing emissions from coal-fired power plants."

He said under "the new normal" the DOE is operating under, "we are looking at the enormous potential these technologies have for the oil and gas industries and other industrial sectors, and even for direct air capturing of CO2 in the atmosphere, often referred to as DAC."

Winberg said the DOE is also looking at expanding the use of carbon capture technologies "for low emission and low cost production of hydrogen."

He added, "We are also looking at new ways through big data and other advances to better see the sub-surface and to advance geological carbon storage capability."

The Trump administration, he said, has spent $400 million to advance CCUS technology.

Winberg pointed to the Petra Nova project at NRG's coal-fired WA Parish Unit 8 facility near Houston as "the world's largest post combustion carbon capture system." The project came online in December 2016, and sells and pipes compressed CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, or EOR, to an oil field 82 miles away.

However, to move new technologies to market will require reducing the cost of the capture side of the process by 50%, ultimately getting it down to about $30/mt, Winberg noted. There will still be the CO2 compression cost, the pipeline cost and the injection cost.

"The majority of the cost of the CCUS value chain is in the equipment and the technology necessary to capture the CO2 molecule, and that is where our focus has been—getting that cost down," Winberg said.

No leaks yet

Burying captured CO2 in what the Environmental Protection Agency identifies as Class-6 wells still is the most frequently used way to manage CO2.

Bromhal noted that NETL looks for two things when a containment well is needed. First, he said, there needs to be enough space at a prospective site to do the drilling, and secondly there needs to be appropriate sealing material available, "such as shale, salt or other rock," he said.

"We have learned how to do this—to keep fluids in the ground. We monitor the seals so CO2 doesn't migrate or impact ground water." In all the containment wells NETL has engineered, "none have seen any leakage," Bromhal said.

In only one state thus far -- North Dakota -- have state regulators sought to have a hand in monitoring the Class-6 wells.

Asked what CCUS cooperation there has been with other countries, Bromhal said NETL has been following the Norwegian project of capturing and storing CO2 from natural gas beneath the floor of the North Sea.

'Normal and boring'

Adam Rosenberg, the staff director for the House Energy Subcommittee on Science, Space and Technology, said on the webcast that commercializing CCUS is "still a challenge," and that an investment on a scale of about $1 billion in a "full range" of carbon removal technologies is needed.

He said HR 3607, or the Fossil Energy Research Development Act that is sponsored by Representative Marc Veasey, a Democrat from Texas, has passed out of committee.

Rosenberg said, "We see support of CCUS as a component of a climate solution. We will need these technologies brought about in a more accelerated way."

He argued that there remains a "political divide" when it comes to CCUS, with a "resistance from the other side to support anything beyond basic research."

He said, "These technologies can't be commercialized without federal and regulatory support unless you are using a technology with a clear revenue path."

Sarah Ladislaw, the webcast moderator and CSIS vice president and director of its Energy Security and Climate Change program, asked about public confidence and people "who are skeptical about bringing CO2 under the ground for a long period of time."

Rosenberg said HR 3607 "will increase monitoring and verification" of containment wells "where there have been many examples of non-events."

"We need this process to be normal and boring," Rosenberg said.