Photo: Gareth Johnson
During the week that saw global climate talks continue in Marrakech and two key reports underline the necessity for carbon capture and storage (CCS) in climate action (see below), the IEAGHG held its 13th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Technologies in Lausanne, Switzerland. Dr Peter Brownsort, Scientific Research Officer at SCCS, reflects on a non-stop week of knowledge exchange and networking.

Arrival: Evening Reception at the Olympic Museum

On our first night in Lausanne, delegates enjoyed a huge networking session at the Olympic Museum on the shores of Lac Leman. We registered, picked up our goody bags and tried to listen to the welcome speeches over the hubbub of chat, drinks and canapés. As well as seeing many of the usual suspects from the UK, I caught up with a number of international colleagues from the world of CCS. It was notable that the Edinburgh crowd had congregated close to one of the beer taps and on the main canapé route, thereby ensuring a high level of technical discourse. It was a steep walk back to my garret in the centre of town…

Day One 

Welcome speeches from Kelly Thambimuthu (IEAGHG Chair), Jean-Christophe Füeg (Swiss Federal Office of Energy) and Marilyne Andersen (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, EPFL) were followed by three opening keynote talks. Kamel Ben-Naceur (IEA) said we should consider CCS as a “must do” following the Paris Agreement and need to “recalibrate” (i.e. increase) the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) ambitions. He announced the simultaneous launch here and in Marrakech of an IEA report celebrating 20 years of safe CCS operations at Statoil’s Sleipner gas field. Trude Sundset (Gassnova) started with the slogan “The time is now!” and gave a summary of proposals for the three Norwegian demonstration projects. She portrayed a clear ambition for these projects to lead to “a North Sea [CO₂] storage hub for the whole of Europe” – something we should be reflecting on also on our side of the water.

Thomas Stocker (University of Bern and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) took us through the climate change story from the Apollo 8 “Earth rise” photo and the Mauna Loa CO₂ data and ice core history to the Paris Agreement at COP21. While the material was familiar to all present, he described the way the logic was used to convince politicians of the issue of a limited remaining carbon budget and this gave a powerful message. He called for leadership – in science, in governments and from the public.

Fittingly, this week the Global CCS Institute launched its annual report on CCS progress worldwide. It identifies 38 large-scale projects across several continents, of which 20 are expected to be operational by the end of 2017. While these projects demonstrate that the technology clearly works, we will need many more to meet the Paris Treaty’s “well below” 2°C climate target – 1000 Sleipner projects, according to Ben-Naceur. The expertise on show at GHGT-13, including our own researchers from the SCCS partnership, will be a major contributor to those efforts.

Trude Sundset, Gassnova CEO, described Norway's proposals for three demonstration projects. Photo: TCM

The technical sessions then got underway – in seven parallel streams, a confusion of choice. I first attended Industrial Sources: Technology and Costs, which covered Costs of Industrial CCS (Duncan Leeson, ICL), an update of the CLIMAT program (Lars Ingolf Eide, RCN), cutting capture costs – an update on the CO₂stCap project (Ragnhild Slagestad, Tel-Tek), CO₂ capture and transport from ammonia manufacture (Hans Aksel Haugen, Tel-Tek) and options and costs for capture from integrated steel plants (Janne Karki, VTT).

After lunch the session on Transport: Networks, Logistics and Costs included Filip Neele’s presentation of our collaborative project on CO₂ transport by ship (TNO, SCCS, Ecofys under the CATO programme) and another talk on ship transport in the Baltic from Jan Kjarstad (Chalmers Uni). I was struck that at this session – in contrast to other conference sessions on CO₂ shipping I’ve been at – there seemed no doubt from the audience that shipping for CO₂ is a viable option.

Other talks covered the FleCCSNet Project (Ben Wethenhall, University of Newcastle), the Gateway Project (Marie Bysveen, SINTEF) and an interesting comparison of pipeline and train transport for short distances from a Czech lignite-fuelled IGCC plant. This suggested cost structures and sensitivities of train transport of CO₂ parallel to those of ship transport, with train being more cost effective than pipe for smaller volumes over longer distances and a “break-even distance” of around 400-600 kilometres.

A brief lungful of fresh air in the late afternoon sunshine and a glimpse of Alpine peaks set me up for the final technical session of the day on Capture in Industry. But this was a long day and the session – focused on the steel industry and options for capture at Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) hydrogen plants – was too intricately technical for my brain by this stage and most of it washed over me. Check the abstracts and the published proceedings.

However, the prospect of more Swiss beer and cheesy canapés – this time at the expense of UKCCSRC, CO₂CRC and the newly formed Norwegian CCS Research Council (NCCS) – was enough to get me up the stairs to the Cloud Foyer in the heights of the conference centre for a couple of hours of useful networking.

Day Two

An early start but crowded metros saw me arrive at the conference centre just after Tim Wiwchar (Shell) had started his celebratory talk on Quest after its successful first year. The Canadian success story continued with Mike Monea reprising the Boundary Dam project experience and describing the role of the new International CCS Knowledge Centre, which he heads.

After these keynotes, my day was bookended by bio-energy with CCS (BECCS). The first technical session on Negative Emissions included talks from Nasim Pour (University of Melbourne) on a sustainability framework for BECCS, Magnus Ryden (Chalmers University of Technology) on the Nordic Flagship project on chemical looping combustion for biomass, Kristin Onarheim (VTT) covering techno-economics of CCS retrofitting on pulp and board mills and Hailong Li (Malardalen University) outlining options for capture from biogas production and combustion.

A refreshing change in the middle of this session was Tobias Proll’s (BOKU, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences) talk on pyrolysis of cotton straw for bioenergy and biochar production. He had some Sankey diagrams of energy flows round the pyrolysis system that I would have happily used if I were still in that field. The sad thing is, though, that in our society that values energy so highly, leaving 50% of it unconverted as stable carbon is never going to be easy to commercialise at scale.

Session 2, for me, was a varied and very interesting one on CCS and National Energy and Climate Change Policies. This included talks on whole energy system modelling and the value CCS brings to the system (Clara Heuberger, ICL, and Gianfranco Guidati, General Electric/ZEP) – good to see another analysis that shows CCS allows achievement of 2050 targets at lower cost than without it.

David Reiner (University of Cambridge) talked on how to value uncertainty in energy system development as an opportunity rather than a risk. Ward Goldthorpe (Crown Estate and Sustainable Decisions) described the changing context for offshore CO₂ transport and storage deployment in the UK following cancellation of the commercialisation competition – to include industrial CCS, biomass, heat and transport decarbonisation – and how the separation of CO₂ T&S infrastructure into a more public than private cooperation was the right way to go. The contrasting piece in this session was AR Akash (IIT, Bombay) talking on the relevance of CCS in the Indian energy mix, a real eye opener in terms of the challenges they face.

During the final stretch, I went to the session on CO₂-EOR, which included Wes Peck (University of North Dakota) talking on hunting for residual oil zones in the Willsonton Basin and Srikanta Mishra (Battelle) on CO₂-EOR in Ohio with perhaps a rather mixed message – discussing CO₂-EOR as an enabler for continuing coal burning in the state, by providing a market for the CO₂.

Closer to home, Kris Welkenhuysen (Belgian Geological Survey, project supported by SCCS) described a profitability study of CO₂-EOR and subsequent storage based on the Claymore field. Erik Lindberg (Sintef) gave a very bullish projection of CO₂-EOR in the Norwegian North Sea, suggesting an additional 2.7 billion m3 oil was available, requiring a peak CO₂ supply of 70 million tonnes per annum.

The bookend to close the day was a workshop organised by Bellona and IEA Task 41 on BECCS. A very brief networking opportunity over a beer and the inevitable canapés preceded a quick-fire series of talks compered smoothly by Jonas Helseth (Bellona):

- Detlef van Vuuren (Utrecht) on IPCC scenarios
- Kristin Onarheim (VTT) on Task 41 objectives and progress
- Tim Kruger (Oxford) on geoengineering and the moral hazards of a technique (meaning BECCS) that may allow a “claw-back” of emissions later
- Samantha McCulloch (IEA) on how BECCS fits with the 2°C scenario
- Kati Koponen (VTT) on the complexities of LCA and carbon accounting for carbon-negative technologies such as BECCS
- Mathilde Farjardy (ICL) on the water-energy-carbon-land interaction, which can give problems for BECCS sustainability
- Keith Whiriskey (Bellona) introducing an upcoming report on CO₂ removal techniques and making some well-grounded and cautious qualifications of BECCS’ potential
- John Litynski (DoE and CSLF) on another report they are preparing on BECCS and highlighting the ADM Illinois project
- Anders Lyngfelt (Chalmers) on chemical looping combustion for BECCS 

Time constraints, and perhaps too many talks, meant there was no real opportunity for questions. So an audience of about forty interested and expert participants – expecting a discussion – mostly dispersed to pre-arranged dinners. After a busy day, I decided to check out a local microbrewery, which turned out to hold a fair number of conference visitors. But no barrier to writing up the day’s – fairly full-on – experience while enjoying “une demi blanche”.

Day Three

First up was a keynote talk from Richard Esposito (Southern Company) on the Kemper IGCC project (and lots more). Despite many difficulties, this is an impressive project and just about all the plants making up the complex are commissioned now. They have been generating electricity from syngas since September and are close to despatching CO₂ into the pipeline system.

Rather than more technical sessions, I decided to attend two of the panel discussions. The first was titled “Collision between technology and policy in assurance of storage performance” – eh, what? Basically this was about questions of how much loss of retention of CO₂ (carefully not using the word “leakage”) is acceptable, how much monitoring makes sense, does it matter if there is some loss of containment in the big picture, and how does all this relate to regulation and to commercial acceptance of risk? Chaired by Susan Hovorka (University of Texas at Austin), the first speakers (Sally Benson, Stanford, and Katharine Romanak, Austin Texas) gave a perspective from the USA, which seems to be entangled in an impractical expectation of monitoring CO₂ in terms of a per cent leakage rate. This was contrasted by Andy Read (ROAD), who described how his project had worked with the Netherlands Government and within the EU Directive to permit CO₂ storage by agreeing a split of responsibilities and liabilities upfront – albeit with a fairly limited and short-term scope.

The general view from the ensuing discussion might be summarised as follows: we need to get away from concepts of acceptable per cent leakage, as it is not meaningful, and instead define what is important in leakage (e.g. leakage from wells and faults) and monitor for this. There was an obvious split between concerns in the USA over onshore storage areas versus the EU and offshore storage areas, where issues are quite different. And, rather sketched over in the discussion but crucially important, we need to have the right way of addressing public perceptions of these issues.

The second panel discussion, chaired by Sally Benson, on CO₂ Utilisation and Conversion was significantly more contentious. Carlos Abanades (CSIC-INCAR) played “Devil’s advocate”, rapidly discounting many forms of carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) as having too small an effect to be significant for climate change mitigation, and also discounting CO₂-EOR (I’m not sure of logic here) while focusing only on the conversion of CO₂ to fuels and other large-scale products.

He referenced IPPC analysis that could not identify any CCU technology that would have a significant mitigation effect because of a need for additional energy and the competition for this within other parts of the energy system. With hindsight, this was a set-up to contrast with the views of the next speaker, Evangelos Tzimas (EC-JRC), who made a case for using excess renewable electricity to produce hydrogen by electrolysis, then combine this catalytically with captured CO₂ to produce methanol as a fuel and an energy storage medium.

This provoked immediate strong reactions from the audience. John Gale (IEAGHG), for example, said cheap or excess renewable electricity is a fiction caused by artificial market conditions in certain countries at present. Niall MacDowell’s (ICL) talk gave a more measured response but essentially the same argument, that CCU cannot provide a serious contribution to climate change mitigation due to the (relatively) low scale, issues of permanence, and the energy balance of most technologies. He did, however, make an argument for CO₂-EOR, with figures showing that it can be carbon negative if managed correctly.

Jon Gibbins (University of Sheffield) gave the final talk, focusing instead on the capture side of CCU and arguing (I think) that if CO₂ is sourced by direct air capture using renewable energy then a lack of energy efficiency in the process is less of an issue. I’m not sure that this is really different from Tzimas’ “spare renewable” argument, but it was treated more gently by the audience. In the ensuing discussion, Stanley Santos (IEA) summed it up by giving a forthright response saying CCU is not a mitigation option but is being driven as an economic option where companies can avoid taxation if they use the CO₂ – even if it is immediately released in use of the product. And several people aired the view that the European Commission is favouring CCU unjustifiably, when it cannot be seen as a climate benefit.

After such contentiousness it was a welcome relief to take a walk with fellow SCCS colleague, Gareth Johnson, down to the shores of Lac Leman after lunch and talk of other things, including sailing ships, if not cabbages and kings.

The last round of the conference proper for me was a technical session on CO₂ Conversion, which rather fell under the shadow of the earlier panel discussion. Talks were from Paul Konst (TNO) on the use of CO₂ absorbed in bicarbonate solution for algal growth promotion; Marty Lail (RTI International) on an ethylene oxide synthesis route using captured CO₂ and a metal oxide catalyst; Christian Wolfersdorf (Freiburg) on CO₂-to-X or Coal-to-X, where X seems to mean methanol, and then a talk from Evangelos Tzimas (EC-JRC) on the business model for “excess renewable electricity” to methanol conversion. This last showed a bit more of where he is coming from – but to me showed that it is entirely an artifice of the current trading system for variable renewable electricity generation.

I flew home early on Friday 18th and so missed the last day. But not before enjoying a rather different “Conference Dinner”, which featured a performance from the Swiss Alpenhorn Academy, piped yodelling music, cheese, fine ales from a local brewery (in small glasses), cheese, impressive circus and dance acts, fantastic pictures of Alpine scenery – especially the cows – rounds of strange Swiss shots, cheese, lots of good conversations but not a lot of food except – did I mention it? – lots of cheese.

Peter Brownsort

SCCS partner institute talks, posters and abstracts

SCCS researchers at the GHGT-13 Conference Dinner. From left, Peter Brownsort, Niklas Heinemann, Gareth Johnson, Ruta Karolyte, Jamie Stewart, Stuart Gilfillan, Ciara O'Connor (UKCCSRC). Photo: Stuart Haszeldine


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