Capturing Carbon

Rob Howard looks at carbon capture technology advances

One of the world's first CCS projects is operating in Algeria.
One of the world's first CCS projects is operating in Algeria.

AspenTech’s Rob Howard looks at the technological developments that are making carbon capture more economically viable

Carbon capture technologies have progressed significantly in recent years in the quest to add commercial value to the process industries. Pilot plants funded by government and private organisations are playing their part in the development of operational excellence and regulatory compliance.

The drive to reduce carbon emissions more economically is essential if manufacturers wish to lower plant operating costs and minimise impact on the environment.

Weighing up the options between meeting environmental needs and commercial goals is one of the dilemmas for many companies.

However, the industry can progress low-carbon energy technologies and help reduce CO2 capture energy penalties imposed by regulatory authorities by working collaboratively. Cooperation between owners and technology vendors leads to a clear commitment to promote competition among suppliers and this also strengthens the initiative to reduce energy and capital costs.

Organisations adopting innovative technology can improve their environmental footprint from a production viewpoint and use cleaner fossil fuel technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS). With more projects dedicated to demonstration on an industrial scale, the more likely that CCS will become commercially viable.

Facing the challenge
While business leaders may worry that green taxes on pollution could drive companies to re-think their commercial strategy, it is worth reflecting that CCS can represent an opportunity.

If CCS technology is to become a standard, then there has to be an opportunity for businesses to generate profit. Just storing CO2 is a cost unless by storing it you can create value. That is what Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) adds to the equation.

EOR is a good option because large volumes can be used and the technology is proven. The Apache Weyburn-Midale Project and in the Permian basin in the Southwest USA has demonstrated for years.

One of the world’s first operating CCS projects, In Salah in Algeria, is located in the MENA region. The project has sequestered 1 Mtpa of CO2 annually since 2004.

Except for this project, most of the region’s activity is in the United Arab Emirates, where the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) is driving a number of projects in a staged approach. However, the Kingdom of Bahrain does have one CCS project, but not an integrated one. The captured CO2 has been used for urea and methanol production.

This is crucial for the development of the industry and for its long-term future. If the CO2 is simply stored in the ground or dissolved in the ocean, there will be little incentive for companies to invest, other than avoiding the need to pay fines for non-compliance with government regulation.

The consensus of opinion across the process industries is that reducing CO2 is a positive move and there is growing interest around the world in the potential of carbon capture and storage.

Engineers can help reduce emissions in several ways: altering manufacturing processes, such that they require less energy to produce the materials we need; improving the efficiency of the entire supply chain, so that energy consumption over the manufacturing lifecycle of a product is reduced and, finally, the efficient removal of CO2 from industrial flue gases and its pipeline transportation to safe disposal locations. Thus, reducing risk and minimising project costs.

The tools for modelling these complex interactions, like process simulation and supply chain optimisation applications, are already in use today worldwide.

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The drivers of change
For any energy or carbon saving technology there has to be a financial benefit for companies operating in market economies. Whilst reducing energy consumption and supply chain efficiency have an obvious commercial incentive, for CCS technology to become a standard, then there has to be an opportunity for businesses to generate profit.

Carbon related legislation is still at the development stage, but the consequences of industry and government policy will have economic impact on global oil markets for many years to come. European refineries are facing the combined challenges of declining regional oil demand and the burden of carbon costs as part of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Many refineries are constantly under the threat of being sold or closed due to market forces. Concerns could also increase regarding the issue of ‘carbon leakage’ if European refineries are subjected to international competition and the potential CO2 cost versus gross margin.

Japan, on the other hand, has a long history of carbon regulation. In 1997 the Japan Business Federation (Japan Keidanren) developed and agreed to the ‘Keidanren Voluntary Action Plan on the Environment’, a voluntary emissions cap and trade programme.

The goal was to reduce the emission levels of 2010 below those of 1990, with members of the Voluntary Action Program (VAP) setting their own emissions targets. The programme was integrated into Japan’s Voluntary Emissions Trading Scheme (JVETS) in 2005 and was then expanded in October 2008.

China, however, has opposed initiatives to set a stringent cap on carbon emissions and is moving toward regulation on carbon per unit of GDP.

In the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai ,launched a long-term national initiative to build a green economy in the UAE under the slogan, “A green economy for sustainable development”.

This will cover a wide range of legislation areas, policies, programs and projects. One aspect of this initiative consists of a group of programmes and policies aimed to promote the production and use of renewable energy and related technologies.

Another aspect consists of means for dealing with the effects of climate change through policies and programmes designed to reduce carbon emissions from industrial and commercial sites. There is also a focus on projects to recycle waste generated by commercial or individual use.

Leading by example
Technology plays a major role in helping businesses go green, whether it is out of social responsibility or to comply with local laws and save costs. The principle of knowledge sharing is fundamental to CCS demonstration programmes for accelerating technology development and reducing costs.

The know‐how and learning from these projects is often a balance between commercial and environmental preservation. However, accelerating the understanding of CCS projects will gain trust by global communities from both the public and companies involved.

A prime example of a leading carbon capture project is Technology Centre Mongstad (TCM), which is using aspenONE software at the world’s largest industrial-scale facility for testing and improving CO2 capture technologies.

TCM uses Aspen Plus and Aspen IP.21 for planning, follow-up and verification of test programmes and results. TCM’s use of the Aspen Plus and Aspen IP.21 product families shows that process manufacturers can reduce carbon emissions more economically, resulting in lower plant operating costs and reduced environmental impact.

TCM is owned by the Norwegian Government and leading global energy companies. TCM’s goals are to: 1) test, verify and demonstrate CO2 capture technology owned and marketed by vendors, 2) reduce costs, technical, environmental and financial risks, 3) encourage the development of the market for CO2 capture technology, and 4) aim at international deployment.

aspenONE software enables process industry companies to optimise their engineering, manufacturing and supply chain operations.

As a result, the world’s leading manufacturers are better able to increase capacity, improve margins, reduce costs and become more energy efficient. The Aspen Plus process simulator, part of the aspenONE Engineering software suite, helps process manufacturers to model, track and reduce CO2 emissions.

The software can transform greenhouse gas emissions from a challenge to an opportunity. As process manufacturers face increasing regulatory requirements, emissions penalties and rising operating costs, manufacturers can turn these challenges into business advantage through reduced energy and emissions costs and by enabling the creation of alternative fuel sources from the emissions.

For example, they can use Aspen Plus to create better carbon capture and biofuel process models powered by the most comprehensive physical property database. Improved amine solvent models enable users to make closer process predictions. With the new models, customers can improve their designs and optimise them for energy use and carbon loading.

Carbon and energy management software helps companies to understand the complexity that sustainability signifies and facilitates the business toward long-term stability.

According to a recent report published by Forrester on The Evolution Of Enterprise Carbon And Energy Management Software (2010): In the global market, the estimate for the Software category was at $395 billion of information and communications technology (ICT) purchases.

The report identifies that the key drivers are spearheaded by cost and efficiency improvement opportunities and reflects the fact that companies are more comfortable with finance-led initiatives. A rapid return on investment is the primary driver and sustainability improvements are considered as a ‘positive by-product’.

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Economic viability
Uncertainty still remains about how carbon legislation will evolve and its impact on the oil markets around the globe, including the refining industries.

Costs for manufacturers governed by carbon initiatives across the regions are likely to increase. The European Union and the United States have recognised the need to enforce higher efficiency standards without affecting competitiveness.

Compliance for companies could mean the implementation of new operational procedures leading to greater complexity. Software applications, therefore, can help define a company’s sustainability strategy and provide transparency into their carbon footprint.

The ability to now measure energy consumption and related carbon emissions means that firms can monitor the sustainability strategy in tangible terms.

The ground-breaking work conducted at the TCM test facility will also help the process industries produce commercially viable carbon capture methods on a broad scale. It has demonstrated how process engineers can effectively model carbon capture systems, predict and reduce emissions using aspenONE optimisation software.

This results in tremendous benefits for process manufacturers and the environment. Business value derives from developing effective energy and carbon management capabilities for applied across operations and the supply chain.

Organisations with a structured strategy to improve energy and carbon management across operations and the supply chain will optimise assets, reduce emissions and become government and industry compliant.

With advanced technology, carbon capture initiatives play an integral role in demonstrating environmental benefits and economic viability in the process industries.


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