There is at least one company that has installed the capability to capture carbon and inject it into a geologic structure on a reasonably large scale. Statoil, a Norwegian oil and gas company that produces about 60% of Norway’s annual petroleum output, installed a carbon separation and compression system in its Sleipner West field in the North Sea when the facility was built (1996).
The system, described in detail at http://www.statoil.com/STATOILCOM/SVG00990.nsf/web/sleipneren separates about 2,800 tons of CO2 each day from the natural gas mixture that the company is extracting from its wells. The CO2 is compressed and then injected into a sandstone geologic formation located about 1000 meters below the seabed. The process apparently adds about a million Norwegian kroner ($153,000 USD as of 4 November 2005) per day to the cost of operating the field.
Under the existing European Union emissions trading scheme, it is possible to put a monetary value on the emissions avoidance. During the past year, the cost of an allowance permitting the disposal of one ton of CO2 into our common atmosphere has traded for between 6 and 23 Euros, with recent prices being closer to the top of that range. That puts the cost of just emitting the CO2 from Sleipner at between 16,800 and 64,000 Euros ($20,160-$77,280 USD) per day, quite a bit less than the cost of capturing the carbon. Of course, markets are dynamic, so the comparison changes each day.
This project benefits from some special circumstances, so any decisions based on its results should be done with full knowledge of those limitations.
- There is a suitable geologic structure close to the place where CO2 is gathered
- There are few contaminants in the gas stream that affect the efficiency of the amine used for capture
- Statoil is a very profitable company with a carefully established image as more environmentally concerned than its competitors
- The facility is covered by an emissions trading scheme which allows some portion of cost recovery
- The amount of CO2 being captured is about 5% of the amount that would need to be captured for a 1000 MWe coal plant
An easier way to avoid putting 2,800 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each day would be to replace about 7 MW of electrical baseload power generation with a small nuclear engine. (Shameless plug here for my company – Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.) Not only would it be easier, but the success would be replicable in hundreds to thousands of similar situations.