Energy Technology Perspectives 2020
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CCUS in Clean Energy Transitions
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Proving CO2 capture from a coal-fired power station – a world-first
Callide Oxyfuel Project Final Results Report (PDF 7.33 MB)Download
What does low emission technology mean?
Low emission technology (LET) includes a range of technologies that allow us to produce the energy and goods we need to grow the economy now while at the same time move us towards a low emissions future.
LETs can create clean, reliable, affordable and flexible power and reduce carbon emissions from ‘hard-to-abate’ industries such as heavy manufacturing (such as steel and cement) as well as heavy transport. They include:
- Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), that captures carbon from power and industrial plants, then stores it underground, or uses it in industrial production.
- The Allam Cycle, which recycles or captures its own carbon emissions as it produces clean electricity. The captured CO2 can be stored or used by industry. It can even generate a clean fuel critical to our net-zero emission future - hydrogen.
- Clean hydrogen using carbon capture, for example, can be used as a fuel to lower emissions from heavy industries.
Why do we need low emission technology?
Low emission technologies have a vital role to play in reaching net-zero carbon emissions and meeting international climate commitments. Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 26% to 28% by 2030.
International climate and energy groups - including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) - agree low emission technologies are crucial to the ‘net-zero challenge’.
LETs enable the production of clean, affordable, reliable and flexible energy that limits CO2 emissions. These technologies can also be used for transport and to produce the materials that we rely on every day - such as steel, cement and chemicals - in a way that is clean and climate friendly.
How can low emission technology and renewables work together?
Low emission technologies and renewable energy are partners working towards a shared goal - a net-zero carbon emissions future.
Renewables, such as hydro, wind and solar play an important part in lowering emissions. Yet despite their increasing role in Australia, they currently have limitations, particularly around scale and supply.
Renewables account for about 20% of Australia’s electricity generation, while traditional sources such as coal and natural gas provide the remainder.
LETs, such as carbon capture utilisation and storage, can work side by side with renewables, reducing emissions from the power sector and other ‘hard-to-abate’ industries such as steel and cement manufacturing, and heavy transport.
What is CCUS?
Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) uses technology to capture more than 90% of the CO2 emitted from industrial facilities and power stations.
CO2 is released when fuels such as coals, oil and natural gas are used. Capturing these emissions stops them from entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. Emissions from industry are a major contributor to global carbon emissions.
Once CO2 is captured, it can be stored safely and permanently underground in geological formations, or it can be used by industry.
For decades, CCUS has been removing carbon emissions in countries like Canada, the United States, Japan and Norway. Currently, 40 million tonnes per annum of carbon emissions are being captured.
CCUS allows us to keep producing the energy and products we need for our way of life as we move to a net-zero emissions future.
How does CCUS work?
Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) is a proven technology to capture carbon emissions when fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas are used, often by industry.
Here’s how CCUS works:
- Carbon emissions are separated from other gases released by the use of fuels, and captured.
- The CO2 is compressed into a liquid-like state so it can be safely transported via pipeline, road or ship.
- Once transported, the CO2 can be stored safely deep underground in porous rock within geological formations. This is called geosequestration. Or the carbon dioxide can be used by industry or in manufacturing products such as cement, plastics, memory foam, methanol, pharmaceuticals and even carbonated drinks.
- Stored CO2 is sealed and closely monitored to make sure the CO2 is safely contained.
Is storing carbon under the earth’s crust safe?
Yes. Storing carbon deep underground – also known as geosequestration – is a safe, permanent solution for removing carbon emissions. Safe carbon storage is the result of decades of global scientific research, including projects funded by LETA, and is highly regulated.
To store carbon, captured CO2 is injected in a liquified form more than one kilometre below the earth’s surface into carefully chosen geological sites. These locations include saline rock formations and former oil and gas fields.
The CO2 is securely locked in by a layer of impermeable rock, known as ‘caprock’, such as shale or clay, which seals the CO2 and prevents it from escaping. After the CO2 is injected, storage sites are carefully monitored to ensure the carbon remains trapped in their reservoirs.
Victoria’s CO2CRC Otway Project - partly funded by LETA - has confirmed that “storage in depleted gas fields and saline aquifers can be safe and effective and that these structures could store globally significant amounts of CO2”.
The ongoing project is one of the world’s largest carbon geosequestration research efforts. It has stored more than 80,000 tonnes of CO2 in a depleted gas reservoir deep underground and other natural formations.
Can carbon capture technology be used for more than just coal-fired power plants?
Yes. The benefit of carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology is that it has multiple uses in addition to enabling power stations to produce low-emissions electricity.
Carbon capture lowers carbon emissions produced by industries such as steel and cement. Globally, these industries generate a quarter of CO2 emissions, so applying this technology in this sector will be critical to achieving our climate change commitments.
CCUS also allows captured carbon dioxide to be reused in industrial processes. Once captured, CO2 can be transported and stored safely deep underground, or used by industry. Manufacturing uses include making plastics, memory foam and methanol, pharmaceuticals and even carbonated drinks.
How is CO2 transported?
CO2 is a stable substance that is regularly transported around the world and in Australia.
Once CO2 is captured from a power station or industrial facility it is compressed into a liquid-like state, known as ‘supercritical fluid’. It can then be transported safely for storage or for use in industry. There are four ways to transport CO2:
Ships, rail and trucks are generally used to transport smaller volumes of CO2, in specially adapted tanks. Trucks are currently the most common way to transport CO2 in Australia.
Around the world, pipelines are the preferred way to transport large volumes of CO2 across large distances - similar to how water is piped. Globally, thousands of kilometres of pipeline are currently moving captured carbon for storage, with over 6,000 kilometres in the US alone. In Snohvit, a natural gas field in Norway, 700,000 tonnes of CO2 are transported 160 kilometres to the North Sea each year.
How can captured CO2 be used?
Carbon emissions captured through CCUS don’t just have to be stored underground. The ‘utilisation’ part of CCUS means CO2 can be used to make low-emissions products we use every day.
Captured carbon is being used as a key raw material to produce plastics, concrete, chemicals such as urea for fertilisers, and carbonated drinks. For example, the Coca-Cola-owned Swiss brand Valser, produces Switzerland’s first CO2-neutral mineral water from captured carbon dioxide.
What is the Allam Cycle?
The Allam-Fetvedt Cycle (Allam Cycle) is a groundbreaking new technology that converts carbon dioxide, including carbon emissions, into a source of near-zero emission power.
Here’s how the Allam Cycle works. To generate energy, traditional power plants use hot steam - produced by burning fossil fuels mixed with air - to spin turbines. Instead, the Allam Cycle uses fluid CO2 created by burning a mixture of natural gas or coal syngas with pure oxygen. The high pressure CO2 is then used to create electricity.
The by-products of the technology are CO2 and water. The carbon dioxide can be reused to produce more power, captured and stored safely or used by other industries.
Another major benefit of the Allam Cycle is that it can deliver power when demand on the grid is high, while the traditional steam method is slow to react. The technology is also well suited to Australia due to its rich natural resources.
Does the Allam Cycle just produce electricity?
No. As well as electricity, the Allam Cycle also produces several by-products that can be used to make products we use every day. Nothing is wasted in the Allam Cycle.
The two leftover products from producing power using the technology - CO2 and water - can be reused for a variety of purposes and products:
- to produce more electricity
- the pipeline-ready carbon dioxide produced can be captured and safely stored underground or used by industry
- to help create hydrogen - which can be used as a clean energy source - and create valuable products. For example, hydrogen produced by the Allam Cycle can also be used to produce the urea used in fertiliser. Australia currently imports fertiliser, which has a significant carbon footprint.
How is hydrogen produced?
Hydrogen is set to become a vital source of energy for electricity, heating and fuel for transport. When produced in a clean way, hydrogen can lower emissions in ‘hard-to-abate’ industries and help reach our international climate commitments.
The main benefit of hydrogen when it is used as a fuel is that the only by-product is water. There are no carbon emissions.
But energy is needed to extract hydrogen from either water, coal, biomass or gas. How clean the hydrogen is depends on what energy is used for the extraction process.
- ‘Grey’ hydrogen is considered unclean because it is derived from high emission fossil fuels with little or no capture, storage or use of carbon.
- ‘Blue’ hydrogen is clean hydrogen produced using fossil fuels such as gas (steam methane reforming) or coal (gasification) coupled with carbon capture and storage technology - lowering emissions.
- ‘Green’ or ‘renewable’ hydrogen, is produced from renewable electricity. Green energy uses a process called ‘electrolysis’ where electricity is used to extract hydrogen from water. When renewables are used to power electrolysis no carbon emissions are produced.