Carbon capture and storage plants: What are they and where are they?

Rather than being motivated purely by environmental and regulatory pressures, the world’s largest carbon capture facilities are dominated by those that use CO2 to produce more oil and gas. Here’s what you need to know.

The Gorgon CCS project The Gorgon CCS project has not gone entirely to plan. Photograph: Chevon Australia

Although the government’s initial efforts to get the carbon capture and storage (CCS) industry up and running in the UK came to nought, this is not the case elsewhere in the world. According to the Global CCS Institute, a total of 28 are now fully operational. Here are 10 of the biggest projects up and running:

 

1 Century Plant, USA

The world’s largest carbon capture facility is able to strip out around 8.4 million tonnes of CO2 each year from the raw natural gas it processes, though it currently operates at about 5mt/yr. Located in west Texas and owned by Occidental Petroleum, it was commissioned in 2010 and cost a total of $1.1bn. But rather than simply being stored geologically, it is piped away for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) – using the gas to reduce the viscosity of oil to allow more to flow to the surface, a controversial process

Almost 90% of global CCS capacity is for this purpose, according to market research firm IHS Markit. On the one hand, using it reduces the carbon intensity of oil and gas production by avoiding CO2 venting, though the counter-argument is that any increase in hydrocarbon production is self-defeating in terms of climate change.

  

2 Shute Creek Gas Processing Plant, USA

The second largest facility, in Wyoming, is capable of injecting about 7 million tonnes of CO2, with an extra 1Mt/yr capacity expected to be online in 2025. It is operated by ExxonMobil and connected to its own pipelines and those owned by ChevronTexaco and Anadarko for use in EOR.

READ MORE: Will carbon capture really work?

 

3 Santos Basin oil field, Brazil

This Petrobras project, accounting for around 12% of global CCUS capacity, lies 300km off the coast of southern Brazil. It arose from a desire to avoid venting CO2, which makes up 40% of the gas from some of the field’s wells, while using it for EOR. It has been in commercial operation since 2013, following a pilot stage in 2011. Expectations are that about 40mt of CO2 will be reinjected by 2025.

  

4 Gorgon liquefied natural gas export project, Australia

Gorgon is only one of a series of major natural gas fields off the coast of Western Australia, all named from Greek mythology, although it is used to refer to the project developing them all. A system to bury the 15% of CO2 contaminating the field’s gas in a saline reservoir under an island was mandated by environmental regulators. As such, it is the largest CCUS project not to involve EOR – and a test case for the industry.

But the plant has been beset by technical problems, including sand clogging up the equipment, leaks and corrosion. These prevented the Chevron-led storage facility from meeting a mandatory target to store four fifths of its CO2 emissions over its first five years of operations, equivalent to 9.5mt. Workers have also been exposed to mercury, it emerged last year, and there have been concerns about the metal and toxic BTEX chemicals being vented into the air, too.

Conservation Council of Western Australia policy director Piers Verstegen described Gorgon as “an international embarrassment”.

In response to the shortfall, the firm announced in November that it would invest A$40m in carbon reductions in the state, on top of buying 5.23mt of Australian Carbon Credit Units and offsets under the Gold Standard and the Verified Carbon Standard. Although the cost has not been disclosed, it could be up to A$230m (£170m), according to reports.

According to Peter Milne, a Perth-based industry analyst, there “has not been a single day” when Gorgon’s injection systems have fully worked.

  

5 Great Plains Synfuels Plant, USA

The Dakota Gasification Company has been converting 16,000 tonnes of lignite into synthetic natural gas since 1984, similar to the old ‘town gas’ plants in the UK. The CO2 produced as a by-product began to be piped 300km north to southern Saskatchewan in 2000, sequestering 3mt CO2 per year for use in EOR. A takeover and planned conversion into a blue hydrogen facility was announced last year.

  

6 Liquedfied Natural Gas CCS, Qatar

In October 2019, Qatari energy minister Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi said that the 2.1mt/yr CCS Ras Laffan Capture Project had been put into action presumably for EOR. He said at the time that the country aimed to store about 5mt/yr by 2025. A 7mt/yr target for 2030 was revealed last year.

  

7 Petra Nova, USA

Petra Nova was established to sequester some of the emissions from a Texan coal-fired power station, with a capacity of 1.4mt/yr. However, it was mothballed in June after its operator concluded it was no longer economic, having been shut down in the spring of 2020. This was due to its function in EOR: the collapse in global oil prices following the pandemic had made the oil produced too expensive to sell, even after government subsidies. Like Gorgon, the plant had also been beset by outages and did not meet a regulatory target.

  

8 Alberta Trunk Line, Sturgeon Refinery and Redwater Fertilizer Facility, Canada

The 240km Alberta Trunk Line is currently connected to a fertiliser factory and an tar sands oil refinery claimed to be the first to be designed with CCS from the ground up. Although it currently transports up to 1.4mt of CO2 per year, the pipeline was designed with excess capacity in place, able to transport up to 14.6mt of CO2 per year, to allow it to be connected to further installations in due course. The system has been fully operational since mid-2020, the CO2 again being used for EOR.

  

9 Quest, Canada

Shell boasts that its Quest CCS plant in Alberta, opened in 2015, was built ahead of schedule, under budget and runs with 98.8% operational availability. The CO2 is obtained from hydrogen upgraders at a tar sands refinery. As they are fuelled on process gas, it is arguably a ‘blue hydrogen’ facility. Around 1.2Mt is captured each year, according to its latest annual report, with over 5mt injected in all so far.

However, the report notes that reduced pressure in the three upgraders caused by the retrofitting the capture technology has damaged them, cracking burners and causing hot spots.

  

10 Sleipner, Norway

There are several projects with a capacity of 1mt/yr, the most famous of which is Sleipner. The offshore facility is the world’s oldest CCS installation, operating for 25 years. The gas field below it has a very high concentration of CO2, which is pumped back to meet purity requirements before the fuel is piped to the coast.

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