U.S. Gulf Coast chemical plants, refiners study carbon dioxide storage to cut emissions

Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS and LyondellBasell as well as other petrochemical companies and refiners will jointly study the feasibility of using underground storage to trap carbon dioxide from operations currently released as air emissions.

Carbon dioxide storage - Image courtesy of Equinor

Eleven companies “have expressed interest in supporting the large-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in Houston,” according to a joint statement on Sept. 16, 2021.

Calpine, Linde, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66 and Valero are the others in the CCS project. The planned storage capacity is 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2030, and as much as a hundred million tonnes within two decades.

Houston is a hub for refining and chemical production that also resulted in high carbon dioxide emissions.  The storage would be located underneath the U.S. Gulf Coast.

If the 11 companies were to implement the CCS technology, they could safely capture and store nearly 75 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2040, the statement said.

130 years of carbon storage 

CCS is the process of capturing carbon dioxide from any industrial activity that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and contribute to a faster climate warming.

After capturing, the process involves transporting that captured carbon dioxide, such as by ship, and then injecting it deep underground into identified geologic formations where they can remain permanently.

In the case of Houston, the plan would be to store the carbon dioxide in the U.S. Gulf Coast region “thousands of feet below the surface or seabed,” according to the statement.

The potential storage capacity along the U.S. Gulf Coast formations could hold 500 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

That would be equivalent to storing as much as 130 years of the total industrial and power generation emissions in all of the U.S.

CCS is one of the few proven technologies that could enable some particularly carbon-intensive industry sectors to decarbonize quickly.

One example of a carbon dioxide intensive process is production of ammonia, used for fertilizers, or hydrogen using energy from fossil sources.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency has estimated that CCS technologies could mitigate up to 15% of total global emissions by 2040.

Companies join efforts

INEOS Olefins & Polymers policies are “consistent with INEOS Group's commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050," said Gary Wallace, vice president of supply.

"Mitigating the impact of human activity on climate change will take more than one company, one industry, one region or one solution. It will take all of us," said Jim Seward, senior vice president of research & development, technology and sustainability at LyondellBasell.

"Efforts like this are an important step in the right direction toward achieving net zero emissions by 2050," he added.

In 2015 nearly all nations signed the Paris Agreement under which they agreed to work to slash carbon dioxide emissions to slow down man-made climate warming.

A reduction in emissions may help limit the projected irreversible global climate increase during this century to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

High costs

The Global CCS Institute, which promotes the carbon capture and storage technology as safe and effective, said on June 28 that a study showed that CCS can help meet ambitious carbon reduction, climate-related goals by the middle of the century. But the price tag isn’t cheap.

Readying that underground storage capacity for all the carbon dioxide would be at an investment estimated at up to nearly $1 trillion per year.

“The International Energy Agency’s Sustainable Development Scenario finds that 15% of all emissions abatement needs to come from CCS. This translates to an almost 100-fold increase in CCS capacity by 2050,” it said. 

“The necessary investment far exceeds what governments are willing to provide, particularly within a short timeframe,” said Brad Page, CEO of the Global CCS Institute.  

Besides carbon taxation, governments play a role enabling an environment suited for very large scale private sector capital allocation “through climate policies which place a value on carbon dioxide emissions reductions,” Page added.

Equinor’s CCS project

Equinor, the Norwegian state oil and gas company formerly known as Statoil that after Russia is the second biggest natural gas supplier to the European Union, is investing heavily in CCS technology.  

Equinor disclosed this year plans to develop capacity to store anywhere from 15 to 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, along with a parallel plan to provide clean hydrogen to serve three to five industrial clusters, the company has said.

Equinor, along with Shell and Total, is investing in a project called Northern Lights for carbon dioxide storage under the Norwegian continental shelf.

This project is also “a major part of the initiative the Norwegian government calls Longship” under which Norway is investing 1.7 billion euros in carbon capture, transport and storage.

The Longship initiative could eventually result in 1.25 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide stored underground, Norwegian officials have said.

Some plants in the U.S. Gulf Coast are seeing investments under a program related to reducing emissions announced earlier this year by Dow.

By Renzo Pipoli