In its Otway Project in south-western Victoria, CO2CRC will inject up to 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into a deep geological formation, and monitor and verify that the carbon dioxide is securely stored (diagram, click to enlarge).
CO2CRC Chief Executive Dr Peter Cook welcomed the approval, saying it represented an important step forward in demonstrating geological sequestration as a technology that could be used safely to make deep cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
However, an Australian parliamentary inquiry into geosequestration [*.pdf] released this month warned that the most substantial risk associated with geosequestration was the leakage of carbon dioxide from storage sites:
"Abrupt or catastrophic leaks of carbon dioxide could have serious consequences to the environment, potentially causing the death of humans and animals"Moreover, it suggests that CO2 storage sites may become potential terrorist targets or that failure of the seal could result in catastrophic release.
"concentration of CO2 greater than 7-10 per cent by volume in the air puts the lives and health of people in the vicinity in immediate danger."Finally, pressure built up by injected CO2 could trigger small seismic events. Other risks identified have to do with 'gradual' leakage, such as contamination of freshwater resources and the gradual degradation of the storage site by the dissolution of minerals by CO2. (On the urgent need for a policy and regulatory framework for CCS, see here).
Carbon-negative bioenergy safest
Some of these risks can be sidestepped when storing carbon dioxide from bioenergy, simply because the spatial logic of selecting sites is entirely different in so-called 'Bio-energy with carbon storage' (BECS) projects. BECS results in the production of radically carbon-negative fuels. It allows sequestration sites to be selected independently of the location of the upstream or the downstream. Bioenergy projects can be brought to the safest, remotest sites, far away from populations and therefor also tap sites that would not be commercially feasible for fossil fuel based projects. This much more flexible site selection logic allows for a great reduction of the risks of seismic events or the destruction of life in case of catastrophic leakage.
Most importantly, by utilizing BECS, leakage of CO2 would add no net CO2 to the atmosphere, because the carbon dioxide is derived from carbon-neutral biomass. For these reasons, the Biopact thinks CCS applied to bioenergy is the safest option to implement the technology (more here and here). Researchers have found that, being the only carbon-negative energy concept, BECS-systems implemented on a large scale can take us back to pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 levels by mid-century.
In any case, even though CCS developments will be driven by the fossil fuels industry, they are important for the bioenergy community which expects them to be applied to biofuels sooner or later.
The project embarked on by CO2CRC to monitor the environment around the injection and storage site and verify the secure storage of the carbon dioxide in a depleted gas reservoir is the most extensive undertaken anywhere in the world, and includes monitoring of the atmosphere, groundwater and subsurface:
energy :: sustainability :: climate change :: carbon dioxide :: biomass :: bioenergy :: biofuels :: biogas :: carbon capture and storage :: geosequestration :: bioenergy with carbon storage :: Australia ::
CO2CRC anticipates beginning the injection of carbon dioxide at the Otway Project late this year.
EPA Victoria Executive Director Bruce Dawson said the approval required CO2CRC to meet a range of environmental requirements and report on the testing to see whether carbon dioxide would leak into the soil or air.
"EPA believes that this trial is an important part of testing and evaluating the suitability of carbon storage," Mr Dawson said.
CO2CRC collaborates with leading international and national geosequestration experts to conduct worldclass research into CO2 geosequestration. Organisations supporting the CO2CRC include CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Universities of Adelaide, Curtin, Melbourne, Monash and NSW; the Alberta Research Council in Canada and the US Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
CO2CRC industry and state core partners are ACARP, Anglo American, BHP Billiton, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, NSW Department of Primary Industries, NZ Resource Consortium, Rio Tinto, Schlumberger, Shell, Foundation for Research Science and Technology (NZ), Solid Energy, Stanwell, the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, Woodside and Xstrata. CO2CRC is supported through the Australian Government’s CRC Programme.
Image: pilot geosequestration project in south-western Victoria. Credit: CO2CRC.
CO2CRC: EPA approval for CO2CRC Otway Project - August 22, 2007.
Australia, House Standing Committee on Science and Innovation, Inquiry into Geosequestration Technology: Between a Rock and a Hard Place the science of geosequestration - August 13, 2007.
Biopact: Pre-combustion CO2 capture from biogas - the way forward? - March 31, 2007
Biopact: Policy and regulatory framework crucial for CCS success - July 29, 2007
Euractiv: 'Carbon-capture trials safest way forward', Laurens Rademakers, Biopact - April 3, 2007.