Industry is Committed to Innovating Climate Solutions
John D. Siciliano
Posted February 19, 2020
It will take new breakthroughs and technological know-how to build a cleaner energy future, and no one is better positioned to lead the way through innovation than our industry.
This is underscored in a Jan. 20 report by the International Energy Agency, in conjunction with the World Economic Forum. IEA said the industry has the expertise and capacity to lead on the clean energy front:
“While some oil and gas companies have taken steps to support efforts to combat climate change, the industry as a whole could play a much more significant role through its engineering capabilities, financial resources and project-management expertise.”
Cracking the Carbon Capture Nut
Through new alliances and partnerships, our companies are investing in carbon capture, utilization and storage, or CCUS, to remove greenhouse gases from power-plant smokestacks, refineries and even directly out of the air itself.
Many of these projects are designed to capture and permanently store the carbon dioxide (CO2) safely deep underground. But the hope of CCUS is to be able to transform CO2, the most abundant greenhouse gas, into usable, marketable commodities, such as synthetic fuels that are similar to diesel and gasoline. Converting CO2 into usable products improves the economics of carbon capture projects, increasing the likelihood of widespread commercialization.
Billions of dollars have already been spent by the industry over the past decade to develop and commercialize these technologies for wider adoption.
In the period between 2000-2016, the industry spent $60.4 billion on CO2-mitigation technologies that include carbon capture technology, according to an API report. This amount represents 27% of the roughly $221 billion spent by all U.S. companies and the federal government on related technologies during the same period.
And we see that effort continuing to strengthen in the next decade, together with other industry sectors.
Recycling CO2 through CCUS
Last fall, the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), a consortium of some of the largest natural gas and oil companies, launched the “Kickstarter” initiative to boost large-scale commercial development of CCUS across the globe.
Currently, many CCUS projects look to recycle the CO2 for use in enhanced oil recovery (EOR). EOR uses the CO₂ to increase the amount of oil that can be recovered from a drill site. However, EOR is only the beginning. Other companies are looking at using the captured CO2 to produce cleaner fuels and other products.
Moving ahead, the new Kickstarter will leverage OGCI’s previous Climate Investments and a $1 billion-plus fund, which has already nearly doubled the number of OGCI investments in promising clean energy technologies over the last year.
Let’s take a look at some of the emerging, carbon-capturing technologies.
Direct Air Capture
Major natural gas and oil firms are joining forces to fund and build larger-scale carbon capture facilities that remove CO2 directly from the air, known as “Direct Air Capture (DAC).” Occidental and Carbon Engineering, a Canadian clean energy firm, are designing the world’s largest DAC facility. The facility will be built to capture 500 kilotons of CO2 directly from the air each year – the equivalent of burning over 2 billion pounds of coal. The CO2 would be used in Occidental’s EOR operations located in the Permian Basin.
Air to Fuels
The captured CO2 can also be used to produce different fuels products, making the captured carbon a valued commodity. This technology aims to make capturing CO2 a profitable venture, as gasoline and diesel are projected to be leading transportation fuels well into the middle of the century. In an extension to the Occidental project, Carbon Engineering’s backers are funding an “Air to Fuels” plant that combines the captured CO₂ with hydrogen to produce very clean diesel, gasoline and jet fuel.
Fuel Cells on the Horizon
Meanwhile, ExxonMobil and the electricity services company FuelCell Energy continue to develop a completely new CCS technology that uses devices called fuel cells to capture the CO2 emitted from large manufacturing facilities or refineries. ExxonMobil also signed a joint development agreement in 2019 with the company Global Thermostat to begin developing a technology that can remove CO2 from both plants and the atmosphere.
Exxon also committed $100 million over 10 years to develop low-emission technologies with the Department of Energy.
CCS and LNG
Chevron is the lead company in one of the largest carbon capture projects in the world associated with the Gorgon liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Australia. The project began capturing and storing CO2 in 2019 with partners Shell and Exxon.
According to Chevron: “The natural occurring carbon dioxide is removed, compressed and safely injected deep below Barrow Island before the gas is ready to be liquefied.”
Meanwhile, Shell is continuing to work on carbon capture at the massive European test facility in Mongstad, Norway, with Statoil and other partners.
North American Success Stories
Shell’s projects in North America have already seen successes, with Shell’s Quest facility in Alberta capturing 4 million tons of CO2 in 2019 from the Athabasca Oil Sands Project. That’s the amount of CO2 sequestered by 60 million newly planted trees over 10 years, according to U.S. EPA’s greenhouse gas calculator.
Furthermore, CCS technology developed by Shell is also being used at the Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant in Saskatchewan, Canada, to capture and store 1 million tons of CO2 per year. SaskPower, the owner of the plant, said it captured a total of 616,119 tons of CO2 in 2019, which EPA shows is roughly the equivalent CO2 emissions of 71 billion smart phones being charged and 63 million gallons of gasoline consumed. SaskPower says it has stored 3 million tons of CO2 since 2014.
Although the CO2 from the projects is stored deep underground, and not transformed into a commercial product, it is still a major step forward in commercializing the technology.
Expect to see more from the industry in the coming months when it comes to pursuing clean energy innovation, and investing its time, money and talents to find the solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.
About The Author
John Siciliano is a writer for API Global Industry Services’ Marketing and Communications Department. He joined API after 14 years as an energy and environment reporter and editor. Most recently, he was senior energy and environment writer for the Washington Examiner and the Daily on Energy newsletter. He began full-time reporting in Washington in 2001 as a foreign affairs correspondent, also covering national security and defense. His coverage of the Mideast and Saudi Arabia led him to become a full-time energy reporter. He earned a bachelors degree in psychology from Ohio Northern University, and he also holds a Masters of Science degree in education from the Franciscan University of Steubenville.