Recognising the growing potential of carbon capture for the Gulf
Read any credible forecast, from the likes of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency, McKinsey & Company, or any of the world’s large energy companies, and you will quickly appreciate that carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) is set to play a big role in the decarbonisation of the global economy.
As well as assisting large oil and gas producers with their social license to operate, CCUS will help to reduce the carbon intensity of energy-hungry industrial sectors like cement, steel, and chemicals. It will also support flexible low-carbon power generation, help to balance and stabilise electricity supply, and even allow the world to compensate for past emissions by removing CO2, at scale, direct from the atmosphere.
The skills that have been honed over many years in the oil and gas industry will be critical in developing the necessary CCUS infrastructure. And there is an opportunity for the energy exporting regions of the world, like the Gulf, to leverage their inherent strengths in this sector, including the re-purposing of depleted oil and gas reservoirs as vast storage sites.
This region can therefore take the baton from North America and lead on the deployment and proliferation of CCUS facilities. As well as helping to address the global climate challenge, this will help the Gulf to decarbonise its own economy, while continuing to produce the hydrocarbons that the world still needs – and to do so with the lowest possible levels of carbon intensity.
This vision has already moved well beyond the theoretical. Three significant CCUS facilities are operational in the Gulf: Qatar Gas is already capturing CO2 from the Ras Laffan gas liquefaction plant; likewise, Saudi Aramco captures CO2 at its Hawiyah Naturals Gas Liquids plant, and uses it to demonstrate the viability of enhanced oil recovery at the Uthmaniyah oil field; and, in the first phase of ADNOC’s Al Reyadah project, CO2 is captured at the Emirates Steel plant in Abu Dhabi. Between them, these three facilities are already capturing 3.7 Mtpa of CO2 every year, and there are plans to scale up significantly.
Petrofac has been active in CCUS for several years, and we are deploying our expertise in gas processing, transport and storage, and our brownfield EPC and well plug and abandonment capabilities to safely and economically capture and store carbon. Primarily, we have been supporting the early development and definition of large-scale CCUS projects. In these assignments we have been able to draw on our life-of-asset expertise to enhance the projects and give surety to future delivery phases. And, of course, we are able to draw on the experience of several projects in the Middle East ,which involve the separation and transportation of CO2-rich gas streams.
Again, things have moved well beyond the theoretical. For example, in the UK, we were selected as the project management organisation for the Acorn Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project by Pale Blue Dot, the key component of the Scottish CCUS cluster. As part of a Technical Delivery Alliance with Storegga Geotechnologies (parent company of Pale Blue Dot), Petrofac is providing capabilities, people, processes and systems to accelerate and de-risk several of the company’s low carbon initiatives – including a proposed Direct Air Capture (DAC) facility, and a hydrogen generation facility, where North Sea natural gas is to be reformed into clean hydrogen, with the CO2 emissions safely mitigated through the Acorn CCS infrastructure.
Another recent achievement is the delivery of the front-end engineering and design (FEED) phase for the Stockholm Exergi project in Sweden. This entails a CO2 capture facility at a the Värtaverketin combined heat and power plant, which will supply electricity and heat to the capital city. The design includes CO2 compression, dehydration, liquefaction, onsite storage, and outward shipment facilities, from where the CO2 will be transported by ship, under cryogenic conditions, for permanent storage. As I write, we are at an exciting stage of the project, with just a few last hurdles to overcome, which will enable our client to make a final investment decision and roll into full engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) delivery.
Other live initiatives include the CO2 capture project for an oil refinery in the Humberside region of the UK, for which we are designing a unit that will extract the gas from the flue gases of the fluid catalytic cracking (FCC), the steam methane reforming (SMR), and the combined heat and power (CHP) processes. The CO2 will be transported via pipeline and stored in either the deep saline aquifer managed by Northern Endurance Partnership or the depleted oil and gas reservoirs of the Viking CCS project.
In delivering these projects, it is interesting to see how our pre-existing oil and gas skills and experience have been redeployed and redirected. For example, challenges we have encountered and overcome include the design and scale-up of first-of-a-kind or novel technologies, brownfield integration of chemical plants to existing facilities without disrupting operations, and the safety design of large inventory CO2 storage systems in public areas. In each case, our teams have been able to draw on experience of working in innately hazardous environments, dealing with the separation, storage, and transportation of industrial gases, and de-risking the delivery of novel or challenging projects.
As more CCUS facilities are envisaged, commissioned, and built, both here in the Gulf states, and across the world, this early experience bodes well for a company like Petrofac. Perhaps more important, it also demonstrates how the wider oil and gas industry can play an active role – and a lucrative role – in supporting the global energy transition and helping to decarbonise the world’s economy.
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