Carbon capture and storage, where carbon is trapped at the source and stored underground so that it can't escape into the atmosphere, has been the subject of great hope and attention. It is still viewed as one of the possible solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global warming to 2°C by 2050.
Total is no stranger to the topic, and for years has been investing to improve the technology, also known as CCS. So far, it has participated in two projects at the Sleipner and Snohvit gas fields in the Norwegian Sea and tested CCS at its own pilot project in Lacq, in southwestern France.
Paal Frisvold, former Chairman of the Board, Bellona Europa (NGO)
The Lacq project has been extremely important for a number of reasons. First of all, to prove that the technology works. But more importantly is the aspect of public confidence. When you store CO2 deeply under the ground, many people become worried. This is extremely important that we can overcome the fear of the public and gain confidence that CO2 storage is a normal and perfectly doable solution.
The Lacq pilot project represents a €60 million investment and is Europe's first full carbon capture and storage chain.
The carbon is captured as it exits one of the platform's boilers and is then transported 27 kilometers to the depleted Rousse gas field, where it is injected into a reservoir 4,500 meters underground.
While several processes exist for capturing carbon dioxide, Total chose oxy-combustion for the pilot. With oxy-combustion technology, the boiler uses oxygen instead of air to burn gas and supply power to the platform. As a result, the flue gas released from the boiler is free of nitrogen and contains only steam and carbon dioxide, which are much easier to separate. But although this technique has now been mastered, several problems still stand in the way of large-scale deployment.
Dominique Copin, Carbon Capture and Storage Coordinator, Sustainable Development & Environment, Total
There are three major challenges. The first is storage capacity, specifically whether there's enough of it worldwide to meet future carbon capture and storage demand. The second challenge is capture costs, or whether we can make the cost of capture low enough for the global economy to accept. And the third challenge is the energy penalty. A coal-fired power plant fitted with a carbon capture and storage system would see its efficiency decline significantly from 45% to roughly 35%. That means more coal or gas would be needed to generate the same amount of electricity.
Total is not alone in working to overcome these difficulties. It has help from many other oil companies seeking to reduce their environmental footprint. The Oil & Gas Climate Initiative brings together ten such companies including Total, and has made carbon capture and storage a priority. One of the pioneers in the area is longstanding Total partner Statoil, which operates the Sleipner and Snohvit projects in the Norwegian Sea.
Eldar Sætre, Statoil President and CEO
We've stored CO2 for decades in the fields of the Norwegian continental shelf. So, we know it can be done, it can be monitored and controlled. So, that's very good news. It needs to be moved on. We have a good perspective on storage, but it needs to be mapped for our storage opportunities. And then also capture site technologies need to be moved further.
Today, 13 projects led by OGCI companies are already in operation, with the International Energy Agency expecting the number to rise to 30 by 2020. This is the first step to unlocking the promise of carbon capture and storage and helping to minimize global warming.