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U.S. Department of Energy Goes Deep, Investing in Geologic Carbon Storage

May 11, 2020 Work Area: Carbon Capture

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) made an important decision in late April to fund five CarbonSAFE project applications for a total of $85 million. These five projects are part of the Carbon Storage Assurance Facility Enterprise (CarbonSAFE), a NETL initiative to further the development of regional commercial-scale geologic storage sites capable of storing 50 million metric tonnes of CO2 or greater. The funding will accelerate the widescale deployment of carbon capture and utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies as a part of a $131 million funding effort to commercialize its research and development (R&D).

Identifying and de-risking geologic storage at regional storage facilities (private hubs or state-owned utilities) may be the Rosetta Stone of CCUS; for carbon capture to be an effective mitigation tool for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil power and industrial processes, there must be readily accessible regional storage resources.

CarbonSAFE news follows NETL 2019 Capture FEED Study Grants

The CarbonSAFE announcement comes after a recent DOE $110 million funding announcement for cost-shared R&D in carbon capture systems in support of Front End Engineering and Design (FEED) studies for nine power plants . These FEED study grants are extremely important in supporting the commercial demonstration of carbon capture projects using different types of capture technologies. Commercial demonstration support by NETL is critical to promote wide-scale commercial deployment of a technology, which helps investors make informed assessments on technology risks and project costs. Development of CarbonSAFE storage infrastructure provides an important complement to these FEED studies, and supports progress under the carbon capture tax incentives known as 45Q. CATF’s 45Q carbon capture projects database illustrates the range of capture projects under current consideration, with no less than 26 projects in the planning, engineering and development process.

CarbonSAFE is the Groundwork for Storage “Hubs”

CarbonSAFE projects are laying the groundwork for regionally accessible storage facilities, known as “hubs.” Hubs –whether private or regulated storage utilities–will play an important role in de-risking CCUS so that each individual capture project need not identify and prove-up its own storage opportunities. Regional storage facilities can also serve to maximize storage capacity by spreading out and managing plumes of CO2 injections though vertical stacks of aquifers that allow for pressure management while minimizing plume interactions within saline reservoirs. Storage hubs may include saline or enhanced oil recovery (EOR) storage, or “stacked storage” hybrids where vertical reservoir intervals of CO2-oil production and saline reservoirs exist in the same or nearby fields. Given the current volatility in oil prices, development of saline hubs may play an important role in early projects.

As an example, one important project funded under this announcement is the Southern States Energy Board ECO2S project to evaluate a regional storage hub in Mississippi including securing a federal underground injection control Class VI injection well permit(s) to serve one or more of its fossil power plants. Southern Company and partners have delineated and tested a very large commercial scale storage reservoir in Mississippi, with a capacity and injectivity exceeding 1 billion tonnes (1Gt). The ECO2S project estimates that geologic carbon storage at the site will be very economical with an overall storage cost of potentially less than $3 per metric tonne.

NETL Should Continue Efforts to Advance Offshore Carbon Storage

NETL should continue to broaden its reach, reinvigorating first phase CarbonSAFE projects but at the same time increase its RD&D investments in offshore storage. As the commercial scale capture market steadily grows, offshore storage can provide the capacity to contain very large volumes of captured CO2. Offshore storage could serve much, if not all, of the CO2 emissions from the central and eastern U.S. Offshore reservoirs may offer other advantages such as no overlying groundwater aquifers or human populations, highly permeable soft sedimentary formations and simplified offshore leasing that avoids unitization issues. Important offshore efforts deserving additional support include repurposing offshore pipelines and platform infrastructure to transport CO2 for storage beneath the Gulf, technologies for recycling CO2 at offshore EOR projects. Three examples are: Southern States Energy Board Gulf of Mexico Project ; Gulf of Mexico Partnership for Offshore Carbon Storage (GoMCarb); and the MidAtlantic U.S. Offshore Carbon Storage Resource Assessment Project .

We applaud NETL for funding these five projects, yet there is much more to be done now to provide certainty of low-cost, low-risk geologic storage opportunities. CATF calls on Congress to support NETL’s CarbonSAFE program and appropriate further funds to expand regional onshore and offshore storage opportunities in the U.S.

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