Regulatory, Technical, and Economic Challenges Facing Large Scale Adoption of Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage Technology | AIChE

Regulatory, Technical, and Economic Challenges Facing Large Scale Adoption of Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage Technology


Birdie, T. - Presenter, TBirdie Consulting, Inc
Watney, L., Kansas Geological Survey
Raney, J., Kansas Geological Survey

Geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide is a viable climate-change mitigation technology.  Significant challenges in the regulatory, technical, economic, and political arenas however remain, preventing wide spread embracement of this technology.  The Kansas Geologic Survey and a group of industry experts under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), has been involved in an on-going  $21 million study since 2009 to assess the potential of deep sedimentary aquifers to permanently store CO2.  Lesson learnt from the Wellington, Ks, CO2 storage and enhanced oil recovery project are shared in order to facilitate successful implementation of future projects. 

The first obstacle to overcome is obtaining an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Class VI injection permit, which is a new class of permit specifically developed for sequestration of CO2.  This is a laborious and expensive multi-year process.  The primary goal of the EPA is to protect the Underground Sources of Drinking Water (USDW) and to ensure that the injection pressures do not cause a hydraulic breach of the caprock or induce seismicity.  The costs associated with formation characterization, testing, analysis, modeling, permit document preparation, and monitoring during the injection and post-injection periods are quite high. The regulatory costs do not cease with injection.  By default, the EPA requires a 50-year post-injection monitoring period to ensure that the injected plume is stable and will not escape into overlying formations.  During this period, the simulation models have to be continuously recalibrated with the acquired data, and used to demonstrate compliance with regulations.  A key aspect of the permitting process is the development and approval of the Testing and Monitoring, Operational, Post-Injection Site Care, Emergency and Remedial Response, and Financial Responsibility plans, which will be discussed.

Due to the recent spate of earthquakes in Oklahoma and Kansas, which may be associated with waste water disposal at enhanced oil recovery sites, the EPA is requiring seismic analysis to demonstrate that the injection will not cause earthquakes. The approach taken at the Wellington site to address these concerns will be shared along with the Wellington Seismic Action Plan which outlines an operational plan to be implemented if seismic magnitude and frequency thresholds within the Wellington seismometer network are exceed.   Monitoring the plume and pressure at depths exceeding 5,000 feet is a challenge.  In order to satisfy EPA’s requirement for an indirect method of monitoring regional subsurface pressures, the satellite based InSAR technique was adopted for the Wellington project.  The approach taken to develop the geo-mechanical model that relates pressures and observed land uplift will be discussed.  Similarly, other innovative technologies such as the U-Tube for in-situ characterization of the plume in various CO2 phases, and using seismic based resistivity to map the CO2 plume regionally will be discussed.

Even with the expected doubling of the cost of electricity with geologic sequestration, power generated from coal fired power plants is still expected to be one of the cheapest forms of energy.  The largest Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) cost component is associated with retrofitting existing plants with carbon capture equipment.  This can run into several hundred million dollars, which corporations are presently unwilling to invest.   A promising new (low pressure thermal swing) carbon capture technology is under development and expected to result in a capture cost only $15 per ton, which is about 1/5th of the present cost.  This would make the technology very competitive.  Carbon tax credits and taxation on carbon emission can make this technology even more economically viable.  It is however imperative that regulatory costs do not escalate.  Even for pilot scale sequestration projects, the EPA requires purchase of insurance or bond of up to $70 million for emergency remedial measures if a USDW is present at the site.  These added costs can make the acceptance of CCUS financially challenging for operators of small industrial and power plants.  

Due to the potential for inducing earthquakes and the fear of contaminating drinking water supplies, public perception about this technology is very negative. According to a recent MIT poll, only 16% of the U.S. public has a favorable view of this technology as a climate change mitigation option.  Such strong opposition has resulted in the abandonment of one of the largest CCUS project, which faced legal challenges from public and special interest groups.  In order to better inform stake holders at the Wellington project about the efficacy and benefits of CCUS, various public outreach documents and project fact sheets have been prepared for the Wellington project, which will be shared.


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