"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Monday, July 30, 2007

Global Warming and Geological CO2 sequestration

In the 21st century there hasn’t been a hotter topic for discussion than global warming. One side believes that we are in eminent danger and that the future consequences are catastrophic if we continue on this path. The other side believes there is no proof that anthropogenic production of CO2 is the culprit of global warming. The basic essence of this debate is that due to human industrialization humans are dumping greater amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere. Our atmosphere is composed of many gases which prevent radiation emitting from the Earth to leave. In essence these gases “capture” this energy and redirect it back to the Earth. This allows temperatures on Earth to be livable instead of a chilling -18 ºC by some accounts. Some people fear that by generating more CO2 we are upsetting the delicate ecological balance which is therefore driving up temperatures. Although there is lots of controversy on either side, one thing that both sides fail to understand is that doing something is better than nothing. One possible solution is that instead of venting CO2 to the atmosphere, one captures the gas into a stable geological formation. This is also known as geological sequestration of CO2.

Geological sequestration is at the present moment still at an very early stage of development, although great advances are being done in the field. There are three main forms of subsurface geological sequestration, this includes: injection to a saline aquifer, injection into depleted oil and gas fields, and finally injection into unmineable coal seams. The best example as of yet of CO2 sequestration is the Sleipner project by Norway’s Statoil. This project came about when Statoil wanted to sell gas but the field contained 4.0-9.5% CO2. Unfortunately for Statoil at the time, gas sales required CO2 to be at 2.5%. Instead of venting 1 megaton of CO2 each year, Statoil decided to reinject the CO2 into the saline aquifer which was 800 meters below the sea bed. In doing this Statoil decreased Norway’s CO2 emissions by 3% and the company saved some valuable taxes which would have been enacted if they released the CO2.
The advantage of geological sequestration in saline aquifers is tremendous. For starters saline formations are very extensive worldwide and they have the potential to hold thousands of megatons of CO2. In the US alone, saline aquifers available to them are projected to be able to hold up to 500 billion tons of CO2. Economically speaking however, CO2 sequestration through saline aquifers may not be entirely suitable for some companies. In the case of the Sleipner project, it is unfortunately not 100% cost-effective. Some believe however that if carbon tax credits and carbon trading systems become more predominant in the future, the economics of this form of sequestration will be extremely cost-effective. As it can be seen from growing European trends, these taxations are most likely to increase in the future therefore making this solution economically viable.

In the end, it is important to recognize that this technology is still in the earliest stages of development. The Sleipner project is merely 8 years old. Some may think its “old” but even the light bulb has a longer time frame than the Sleipner project and during its 8 years of development the light bulb (incandescent) was extremely ineffective. What one must learn from the Sleipner project is that CO2 sequestration is a possible solution, even if temporary, to our growing CO2 emissions. As technology advances we may be certain that the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of this project will only increase. Furthermore we will also learn of new innovative CO2 sequestration techniques which may provide to be even more suitable than current saline aquifer projects. So while technology still tries to improve alternative energy resources, improve their efficiency, and improve energy efficiency in products in common goods; we may still be able to find innovative solutions to help lessen our impact on the environment.

1 comment:

Adrian said...

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