The Otway Project in Victoria has demonstrated CO2 can be stored safely underground in Australia The Callide Oxyfuel Project in Queensland is the largest demonstration of oxyfuel technology in the world to date The IEA says CCS is a critical component in the portfolio of low-carbon technologies combating climate change The IEA expects CCS to contribute 14% of global emissions reduction by 2050 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says without CCS, the cost of reducing emissions to 2100 increases 138% Canada’s Boundary Dam – the first large scale CCS project in the power sector – began operation in October 2014 Since 1986, the Sleipner Project has been storing a million tonnes of CO2 per year in the North Sea

Frequently asked questions

What is low emissions technology?
What are fugitive emissions?
What is carbon capture and storage?
Why is CCS important?
Will CCS be expensive?
Has successful storage been achieved?
Is it safe?
Does the carbon leak from its storage site?
Who is involved in CCS in Australia?
Who is involved in CCS around the world?

What is low emissions technology?

Low emissions technology is a broad term that covers technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the use of fossil fuels (including carbon capture and storage and high efficiency, low emissions power generation technologies) as well as renewables and nuclear power technologies.

Low emission technologies may be applied to a number of activities including:

  • fuel production
  • electricity generation
  • refining, smelting, cement, iron and steel and other industrial production
  • fuels for and modes of transportation
  • using, reducing, or eliminating existing fugitive greenhouse gas emissions.

Low emissions fossil fuel technologies reduce emissions from the utilisation of coal, gas and other fossil fuels as well as “fugitive emissions” (mainly methane and carbon dioxide) associated with coal mining and gas extraction, transport and liquefied natural gas production.

While the improvement in energy efficiency is largely the domain of users of fossil fuels, rather than the producers, it is an important field of study and research within the mix of progress towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What are fugitive emissions?

Fugitive gas emissions refers to the escape of gases when coal is mined both in open cut and underground mine, and also the gases that escape from the production of oil and gas. Fugitive gas emissions from all sources account for around 7.3% of Australia’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions, while fugitive gas emissions from coal mining account for 5%. All coal seams contain some level of gas and the amount of gas varies from one seam to another and within a seam. The gas needs to be removed from the coal seam before mining the coal to ensure the safety of miners.
ACA Low Emissions Technologies (ACALET) and the black coal industry’s research program (ACARP) are working on research and development programs to assist the coal industry on ways to reduce fugitive emissions.
To date the focus has been on the following technical issues:

  • Development of practical and cost effective methods of estimation/measurement of fugitive emissions
  • Development of improved gas drainage technology, including enhanced drainage with a view to application at open cut mines and
  • Development of technology capable of treating the very low and highly variable methane levels in Ventilation Air Methane (VAM).

Underground mines working gassy seams remove seam gas by drilling into the seam from the surface prior to mining (pre-drainage), drilling into prepared blocks underground prior to commencement of operation (in-situ drainage) and in some cases drill into the worked out areas after mining to remove accumulations of gas from the surrounding strata.

Gas is inevitably released as the ground is disturbed during the mining process and management of that gas release is a key part of a mine operation. The approach to gas management differs according to the type of mine operation.

In conjunction with industry both ACALET and ACARP are working on improving gas extraction and management from mines. The key emphasis is health and safety of the miners.

Coal mining is an important anthropogenic source of methane emissions. Although agriculture accounts for by far the largest proportion of methane emissions from human activities, emissions from all coal mining related activities - extraction, transport and storage - accounted for around 6% of total global anthropogenic methane emissions in 2010.

All coal seams and the surrounding strata contain some level of gas due to the processes by which it was formed over geological time. This is commonly referred to as the in-situ gas content. The amount and composition of in-situ gas is highly variable from one seam to another and within a single seam. The major constituents of concern from a GHG emissions perspective are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4).

Prediction of in-situ gas content and composition is a hotly debated topic among coal geologists as it depends on a very complex range of factors. However, at a very high level it is commonly accepted that total in-situ gas content and the proportion of CH4 in the gas both increase with depth. In-situ gas is inevitably released as the ground is disturbed during the mining process and management of that gas release is a key part of a mine operation.

What is carbon capture and storage?

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, refers to a suite of technologies designed to tackle global warming by capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by large industrial plants, transporting it (for example by pipeline) and then storing it deep underground in rock formations in geologically safe and stable locations, where it is permanently stored.

In its 2014 Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that without CCS, the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the period 2015 to 2100 increases by 138%. This explains why the International Energy Agency considers CCS is a critical component in a portfolio of low-carbon energy technologies aimed at reducing emissions. It adds that CCS could contribute 14% of global emissions reduction by 2050.

Why is CCS important?

According to leading analysts like the International Energy Agency, the world’s demand for energy is going to continue increasing steadily for the foreseeable future, especially in the large emerging Asian economies such as China and India, as well as in Africa. As a result, all forms of energy, including fossil fuels, nuclear and renewables will be needed to meet this demand. Use of fossil fuels, especially coal due to its global availability at low cost, provides an economically viable means of achieving this economic growth and the lifting of living standards in these countries.

Power generation from renewable sources such as wind and solar will clearly play a role in meeting the growing needs of society.  But fossil fuels will still be needed for the foreseeable future to provide the majority of electricity in the world. Deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage technologies offers a realistic option for continued use of fuels such as coal and gas as part of a suite of more environmentally friendly forms of energy, which are expected to emerge at commercial scale and reduced costs over the course of the 21st century.

Will CCS be expensive?

All low emissions technologies will cost more. This is because the new technologies are more complex than existing technologies.

The initial CCS plants will be relatively expensive, especially at the pilot, demonstration or prototype stage. However with ongoing research and development and ever widening deployment the cost of CCS will inevitably come down. This is a well-known fact that applies to all new technologies. Research into cheaper and more efficient ways of capturing carbon dioxide from power plants, transporting it and storing it are being developed all the time.

Has successful storage been achieved?

In Australia, 65,000 tonnes of CO2 were successfully stored in a depleted gas field in the Otway Basin in Victoria in 2008 and 2009.  Elsewhere in the world, the Sleipner project has been storing approximately 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year in a deep saline formation under the North Sea off the coast of Norway since 1996, with a total of around 15 million tonnes stored to date.  The In-Salah project in Algeria has also successfully stored 3.8 million tonnes of CO2 over the period 2004 - 2011.  Numerous other, smaller scale CO2 storage projects have been undertaken around the world.

Is it safe?

The process of injecting gases into deep geological formations is well-established and has been common practice in the oil and gas industry for many years.  CO2 is a stable substance and, provided the well-established industrial safety protocols are followed, the injection process can be conducted without any threats to the health and safety of workers or the public.

Prior to injection commencing, the geological formation that forms the reservoir in which the CO2 is to be stored is exhaustively studied to ensure its suitability.  This includes establishing the boundaries of the reservoir that provide an effective seal to prevent the stored CO2 from leaking, either to the surface or to adjacent geological formations, and characterising the types of rock within the reservoir to identify any risk of undesired reactions with the stored CO2.  Having established that the reservoir is suitable for safe, secure storage of CO2, injection can commence.

Throughout the period of CO2 injection, and for many years after injection ceases, the CO2 plume is carefully monitored to track its movement and ensure that any undesired events are detected early so that effective remedial action can be promptly taken.

Does the carbon leak from its storage site?

In a good or well characterised site it is very unlikely that the stored CO2 gas can escape from the reservoir itself, because the reservoir seal will not allow that to happen. After all, natural gas and carbon dioxide have remained locked away and undisturbed in reservoirs deep within the ground for tens of millions of years before being tapped and released by human beings in more recent times.

Geological storage sites are selected with utmost care with safety paramount and risk of leakage reduced to near zero. There are quite a number of example of CO2 storage in the world today that have proved highly successful in ensuring safe and reliable storage of CO2 over a long period of time – the Sleipner gas project in the North Sea, the Weyburn enhanced oil recovery project in the US/Canada and the In Salah CO2 storage project in Algeria are testimony to this.

Further to this, government regulations will require that CO2 fields be extensively monitored both underground and at the surface to validate the security of geological storage.

Who is involved in CCS in Australia?

The organisations involved in CCS in Australia are many and diverse, covering basically government, industry and the research sectors. By way of example, the Co-operative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies (CO2CRC), a lead organisation in the field of CCS in Australia, collaborates with leading international and national CCS experts to conduct world-class research into CCS. The CO2CRC has members including Australian and international research organisation and university, geological surveys, oil and gas companies, coal companies, power generators and other users of fossil fuels.

The Australian coal industry has taken a lead role in the development of CCS in Australia, with the setting-up of the COAL21 initiative in the early 2000s, bringing together the relevant government, industry and research bodies to plan and pursue the development of CCS in Australia. The coal industry went one step further in 2006 with the setting-up of the world’s first voluntary fund, the COAL21 Fund devoted to assisting in the research, development and demonstration of CCS technologies and projects in Australia.

The Australian government has also played a vital role in this regard with the establishment of the Global CCS Institute – promoting and sharing knowledge of CCS related activities worldwide.

There are many projects taking place in Australia and within the world. The Global CCS Institute tracks the large scale integrated projects globally and the Co-operative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies maintains a watching brief on Australia’s CCS projects covering the spectrum from R&D through to commercial scale projects.

Who is involved in CCS around the world?

There are many private sector and government organisations involved in CCS around the world.

A good way to obtain an overview of countries/organisations involved in CCS is through the Global CCS Institute.  The Institute was established in 2009 with initial funding from the Australian Government. It is an international membership organisation and Its mission is “to accelerate the development, demonstration and deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS), a vital technology to tackle climate change and provide energy security”.

The Institute connects parties around the world to address issues and learn from each other to accelerate the adoption of CCS as quickly and cost effectively as possible. This is achieved primarily through sharing expertise, building capacity and providing advice and support so that CCS can play its part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, with regional offices in Beijing, Brussels, Tokyo and Washington DC.

The Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) is a Ministerial-level international climate change initiative that is focused on the development of improved cost-effective technologies for the separation and capture of carbon dioxide for its transport and long-term safe storage. Its mission is to facilitate the development and deployment of such technologies via collaborative efforts that address key technical, economic, and environmental obstacles.

The CSLF also promotes awareness and champions legal, regulatory, financial, and institutional environments conducive to such technologies. Membership is open to national governmental entities that are significant producers or users of fossil fuels and that have a commitment to invest resources in research, development and demonstration activities in CO2 capture and storage technologies. There are currently 22 member countries, including Australia, plus the European Union involved in the CSLF.

The Global CCS Institute makes available on its website a comprehensive view of the developing pipeline of CCS demonstration projects and an interactive map, which provides an overview of the large-scale CCS projects around the world.

Please refer to the Useful Links page.