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Fossil Fuels

Carbon capture projects proliferate

CO₂ storage announcements on three continents signal an upshift for the industry

by Craig Bettenhausen
July 22, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 27


A photo of two people inspecting a valve at an outside factory.
Credit: px Group
The Acorn CCS project will leverage existing pipelines and facilities in eastern Scotland.

Large energy and chemical companies are increasingly looking to the capture, utilization, and storage of carbon dioxide (CCS) to deal with the greenhouse gas generated by their operations.

In Scotland last week, the Acorn CCS project gained ExxonMobil as a customer and selected Carbon Clean to provide carbon-capture technology. If it opens as planned in the middle of this decade, Acorn will store 5–10 million metric tons (t) of CO2 per year from facilities at or near the St Fergus gas complex. That number could grow to 20 million t in the mid-2030s. The UK government has set a national carbon-capture goal of 10 million t per year by 2030, the equivalent of 4 million cars.

Acorn is a partnership between Shell, Harbour Energy, and Pale Blue Dot Energy, a subsidiary of the decarbonization specialist Storegga. The chemical company Ineos and the oil refiner Petroineos have also signed on to the project.

The effort will take advantage of existing pipeline networks in eastern Scotland that connect to St Fergus. Carbon Clean uses advanced amines to capture CO2 from combustion flue gas and methane streams. At Acorn, the firm says it is targeting a cost of $30 per metric ton.

In France, the industrial gas firm Air Liquide, the chemical makers Borealis and Yara, and the oil companies ExxonMobil and Total have agreed to explore CCS infrastructure that would capture CO2 from the companies’ factories in the Normandy region and store it under the North Sea.

The first phase of the collaboration is a technical and economic feasibility study of capturing up to 3 million t of CO2 per year by 2030. Air Liquide already captures carbon in Normandy, using a cryogenic system on a plant in Port-Jérôme that reforms methane into hydrogen.

In Canada, Shell is expanding carbon capture at its Scotford, Alberta, facility. The project, dubbed Polaris CCS, will capture 750,000 t per year of CO2 from methane reforming and ethylene glycol production at the complex. Shell’s Quest CCS already captures about 1 million t per year from H2 production at Scotford.

In Australia, Chevron says it is on track and will soon sequester 5 million t from its Gorgon natural gas facility where it started capturing carbon in 2019. Gorgon is a joint venture between Chevron, which operates the site, ExxonMobil, Shell, and three Japanese energy companies. Carbon capture at Gorgon has been behind schedule, which Chevron attributes to difficulties safely starting the 2-km deep CO2 injection. Despite the setbacks, Gorgon is one of the largest carbon sequestration sites to come online so far, with an annual capacity of up to 4 million t and room for a total of around 100 million t.

Susan Hovorka, who studies geologic CO2 storage at the University of Texas, Austin, says she’s seeing a lot of new interest in CCS. She’s received 38 technical inquiries about CCS in the last 3 months, which she describes as a significant upswing. The acceleration doesn’t worry her, she says. “The storage has been sitting there ready for some time, and the knowledge is there, ready. Of course, we can always improve it, but it’s ready for prime time now.”


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