In pursuit of green energy excellence

The rich petroleum resources in the North Sea have provided Norway enormous benefits, but Norwegians have also accepted that there are important responsibilities coupled with these resources. As scientists have come to understand the urgency with which society must curb CO2 emissions in order to control climate change, Norwegian politicians, scientists, engineers and industries have taken a pioneering role in developing the technology and know-how to capture climate-damaging carbon dioxide and lock it away from the Earth’s atmosphere in deep reservoirs under the ocean.

By the year 2030, global energy demand will increase by 60 percent, according to the International Energy Agency, most if not all of which will be powered by fossil fuels. If no steps are taken to control the carbon dioxide from these power plants, “we will have stolen our children’s future,” says Tom Burke, a visiting professor at Imperial and University Colleges, London, and the co-founder of E3G, an independent not-for-profit environmental consulting organisation based in England.
 
Burke says Norway’s groundbreaking work in the capture and control of CO2 has been critical in developing the world’s ability to address the problem of climate change. “Norway is turning the key in the lock of the door that we have to open” in developing carbon dioxide control technologies, he says. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the future prosperity and well-being of the 6.5 billion people on this planet relies on our ability to make this technology work, and to work well.”
 
Norway’s commitment to developing carbon dioxide capture and control technologies is both broad and deep. Since 1996, Statoil (now StatoilHydro) has been capturing and storing one million tonnes of CO2 a year from the Sleipner field in a sandstone formation nearly 1000 metres under the North Sea, in the world’s first and largest test of this approach to locking CO2 away from the Earth’s atmosphere. In 2006, the Stoltenberg government committed to building a pioneering combined heat and power plant at StatoilHydro’s Mongstad refinery that will include carbon capture. Other Norwegian industries have also taken a lead, with companies such as Aker Kværner, Det Norske Veritas (DNV), Gassco and Sevan Marine all developing techniques and technologies that will help lead Norway – and the world – to a carbon-free future.

StatoilHydro’s Sleipner field is the largest and longest running carbon dioxide capture and storage project in the world. Excess carbon dioxide from the natural gas taken from the field is extracted and pumped into a sandstone formation 1,000 metres below the sea floor.
© Alligator film /BUG / StatoilHydro
A Mythical Beast & Pioneering Technology
StatoilHydro’s Sleipner field is named after a mythical eight-legged horse that was the fleetest animal on Earth, and that carried the Norse god Odin. Now the Sleipner experiment will help carry forward the knowledge needed to understand how underground storage of CO2 can contribute to solving the Earth’s climate problems.
 
The Sleipner project began because of another Norwegian environmental commitment: in 1991, the Norwegian Government imposed one of the world’s first taxes on carbon emissions. Natural gas from Sleipner field contains high amounts of carbon dioxide, enough so that some must be removed before the natural gas can be shipped to European buyers. Ordinarily, CO2 would be extracted from the gas and released to the air. But Norway’s carbon tax made that a very expensive option. Deep sea storage seemed like a perfect answer, and the Sleipner experiment began in 1996. Nearly 10 million tonnes of CO2 have now been safely stored away under the sea in the Utsira formation, nearly 1000 metres below the seabed.
 
The success of the Sleipner effort subsequently led Statoil to apply this approach to the In Salah field in Algeria beginning in April 2004, where 17 million metric tonnes of CO2 will be stored in the underground reservoir over the life of the project. More recently, as gas from the giant Snøhvit gas field in northern Norway has begun to flow, StatoilHydro is storing 700,000 tonnes of CO2 annually in a formation 2,600 metres under the seabed.
 
Helge Lund, CEO of StatoilHydro, says that he and his company are committed to helping solve global environmental problems like climate change. “We must contribute to finding solutions which can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s essential for the global environment and important for the confidence we enjoy in the community,” Lund says.
 
The Post-Combustion Problem
Capturing carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions is plagued by a simple fact: CO2 is produced in huge quantities when fossil fuels are burned, so the sheer volume of exhaust gas that must be treated to remove the substance is staggering. And currently, in most parts of the world, it is still cheapest to dump CO2 into the atmosphere without capturing and storing it, because capture technologies cost money. In the end, however, the control of greenhouse gas emissions must first include retrofitting existing power plants, simply because there isn’t enough time to build new plants with built-in technologies. New technologies must also be developed to remove carbon dioxide before a fuel is burned – a process that can be more efficient, but that is technologically more challenging.
 
The Gas Technology Center, a cooperative between the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and SINTEF, is leading an effort called BIGCO2 to further develop carbon capture and storage technologies.
© NTNU Info/G.K.

Both these areas are where SINTEF, Scandinavia’s largest independent research institute, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have taken a leadership role. Together, NTNU and SINTEF are participants in 14 European Union research projects concerning CO2 capture and storage. One of the largest of these was just awarded under the EU’s 7th Framework Programme, when in mid-October 2007 SINTEF Energy Research was named leader of a project on capturing CO2 from coal- and gas-fired power plants. The NOK 120 million, four-year project, called DECARBit, involves 14 partners from eight lands. NTNU and SINTEF together were awarded approximately one-third of the project’s EU research funds, which involves developing the next generation of CO2 capture technologies that can be employed before a fuel is burned. 
The two research institutes are also leaders in Norway’s largest research project on CO2 capture technologies, called BIGCO2. StatoilHydro, Statkraft, Alstom, Aker Kværner, Shell, Total, ConocoPhillips and GE Global Research have joined forces with six research co-operators, including NTNU, SINTEF and researchers from the University of Oslo, CICERO, the German Aerospace Center, and the Munich University of Technology. Basic funding for the project has been provided by the Research Council of Norway and Gassnova, which is the Centre for Gas Power Technology, a subsidiary of the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy.
 
The German research institutes are new partners that can conduct testing that Norwegian institutions cannot, says Nils A. Røkke, director for gas technology at SINTEF and co-director of the joint SINTEF-NTNU Gas Technology Center. “They are providing infrastructure that is not available in Norway, such as high-pressure facilities. It is simply cheaper and better to use those facilities in Europe, and to team up with some of the best research institutions in this area,” Røkke says. 
 
The goal of BIGCO2, which has had a NOK 200 million budget over nine years, is to pave the way for gas-fired power plants that include CO2 capture and storage technologies that give a 90 percent CO2 capture rate. This technology would also have to result in a 50 percent cost reduction and a fuel-to-electricity penalty that is less than seven percent as compared to state-of-the-art gas-fired power plants, Røkke says. 
 
“I have strong hopes for this,” he says. “Carbon capture and storage can contribute to more than 25 percent of the emission cuts that we need to achieve by 2100. You simply cannot reach these goals without CCS.”
 
Aker Kværner’s Just Catch technology is designed to cut the cost of capturing carbon dioxide from gas and coal fired power plants. The technology is now ready to be tested in a demonstration project.
© Aker Kværner

New Approaches
The Norwegian industry giant Aker Kværner is also an active participant in helping to solve the CO2 problem, with the development of a technology called Just Catch. Aker Kværner began working on carbon dioxide capture as early as 1991, says Oscar Graff, director for gas technology at Aker Kværner Engineering and Technology. Work on the Just Catch technology began in 2004 with a small study that was so promising that it was quickly ramped up in 2005 with 50 percent funding from Gassnova. The budget for the project is NOK 32 million, making it the largest development project funded by Gassnova, Graff says. One of the key aspects of the technology is that it is independent of the kind of combustion involved, and so can be applied to coal- or gas-fired power plants, and other industrial emissions, such as cement factories. The Just Catch technology is being developed in cooperation with 12 other industrial partners, including Vattenfall, StatoilHydro, Gassco and Statkraft.
 
In April 2007, Aker Kværner and its partners tested a new variation of the Just Catch technology, with the addition of a biomass component as the heat and power source to heat the carbon capture equipment. That means there is no loss of energy from the power plant, and CO2 can also be captured from the emissions caused by burning the biomass itself. Biomass also consumes carbon dioxide as it grows, making the benefit of using the Just Catch-bio technology an actual decrease in the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the plant. “By using this technology, we capture 100 percent of the CO2 from the gas-fired power plant, and another 16 percent from the (carbon neutral) biomass, so that you will actually have a reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere,” Graff says. Roughly 40 engineers are at work on the Just Catch technologies, with the budget for the biomass component at about NOK 24 million, he says.
 
Aker Kværner also joined forces with SINTEF and NTNU in late October 2007 to form a joint company to develop new chemicals for CO2 capture. The market is considerable – by the year 2100, coal- and gas-fired power plants built to meet the world’s demand for energy will require an estimated 7,500 CO2 emissions control systems. Just one percent of that market could be worth as much as NOK 240 billion to Norwegian businesses, says SINTEF’s Røkke. “That’s considerable payback for the public research kroner that have been invested in this field,” he says.
 
A European Test Centre
One of the most intriguing carbon capture efforts under development on Norwegian soil is a power project at StatoilHydro’s Mongstad refinery. Due to be operational in 2014, the combined heat and power plant project will be the world’s largest with full-scale CO2 capture and storage. “With this project we are writing industrial and environmental history,” says Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. 
 
The Mongstad facility will also be home to a European Test Centre for CO2 capture and storage. DONG Energy, Shell, StatoilHydro and Vattenfall are all partnering with the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy on the project; the companies involved all have different CO2 capture technologies that can be tested at the facility.
 
The timetable for the Mongstad plant is ambitious, and calls for the new gas-fired power plant to be constructed by 2010, with a smaller-scale CO2 absorption plant that will capture 100,000 tonnes per year. The capture of the plant’s estimated 1.3 million tonnes of CO2 is planned by 2014.
 
While the technical challenges posed by capturing and storing CO2 are considerable, other, more peripheral challenges are also vital. For example, what is the best way to safely and securely transport CO2? Gassco, a Norwegian company that is responsible for transporting Norwegian gas to continental Europe and the UK through a 7,800-kilometre pipeline network, is examining this issue. The company is looking at what will be needed for the CO2- related projects at the Mongstad test centre and industrial complex, as well as at a gas-fired power station at Kårstø north of Stavanger, where the hope is to have a carbon capture facility in place by 2011-12.
“We regard transport studies for this greenhouse gas as highly interesting,” says Sigve Apeland, Gassco’s project manager. “It’s a development job in which we want to participate.”
 
StatoilHydro’s Mongstad refinery will be home to a new carbon capture facility that will be built in stages along with a new combined heat and power station at the complex.
© Øyvind Hagen/StatoilHydro

From Problem to Solution
With all the troubles projected to result from climate change, it’s hard to think of CO2 as anything other than a problem. But carbon dioxide can be valuable if it is used to boost oil recovery from mature oil fields in a process called EOR, or enhanced oil recovery. That’s the thinking of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, which is hoping that CO2 in offshore reservoirs will actually create a value chain for the transport and injection of the substance.
 
Typically, the continued tapping of a petroleum field reduces pressure in the reservoir, which drillers counteract by injecting water or natural gas. But CO2 could provide the same service, as has been shown in onshore fields in the United States. Norwegians are interested in another benefit of the technology – disposal of CO2. A coalition of businesses and research institutes has been exploring this possibility in the Halten CO2 project, a cooperative between Shell and StatoilHydro, which would involve the Draugen and Heidrun fields. The goal is to use CO2 from an integrated gas-fired 860 MW power plant at Tjeldbergodden in mid-Norway. While technical research has shown the project is feasible, government involvement is necessary, Kai Bjarne Lima, the Halten CO2 project manager told the Norwegian Oil Industry Association in Molde in May 2007. Nevertheless, “the Halten project can lead to a paradigm shift in the capture and storage of CO2, along with the use of CO2 for enhanced oil recovery” he says.
 
Sevan Marine and Siemans AG’s Norwegian unit are also testing interest in a possible floating electricity generating platform that could power oil and gas fields while providing CO2 for enhanced oil recovery and storage. Given sufficient interest, these combined cycle plants could be in production as early as 2010, according to the vice president of business development for Sevan Marine, Fredrik Major.
 
A gas-fired power station in Kårstø, north of Stavanger, is due to be operational in November 2007, with CO2 removal technologies due to be in place
by 2011–2012.
© Gassco

Assuring Safe Technologies, Spreading the Word
It’s one thing to develop new technologies – but it’s equally important to assure they work the way they should. That’s the job that Det Norske Veritas (DNV) is undertaking for the oil and gas industry. DNV will qualify the carbon capture technology that will be used in the Just Catch Bio Demo plant, and is conducting three joint projects to develop international standards for CO2 capture, transmission and storage.
 
“This is not a typical certification,” says Kaare Helle, the DNV project manager for the capture section of the new standards. “We want to focus on the functionality of the technology, to show that the technology will function reliably and that it will deliver what they say it can deliver.”
 
All this technology will be for naught without the environmental awareness to encourage individuals to lower their carbon footprint and politicians to support programmes to control carbon dioxide. That’s the reasoning of the Bellona Foundation an Oslo-based NGO that has devoted considerable resources to the challenge, including substantial participation in ZEP, the Europe Union’s multidisciplinary effort under the 6th Framework Programme to enable European fossil fuel power plants to have zero CO2 emissions by 2020. Both Bellona’s president Fredrik Hauge and staff members have been active in the programme. In ZEP’s recently published strategic overview, Hauge features prominently, warning, “The immediate and wide implementation of CCS is vital if we are to avoid the devastating – and irreversible – consequences of climate change.”

 

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