Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is the bane of the environmental community–nobody really knows if it works on a large scale, but the technology is critical (PDF file) if we want to reach emissions reduction goals. Now GE Oil & Gas wants to make CCS a reality with the world’s largest carbon capture project, a $400 million endeavor in Australia’s Gorgon natural gas field.
Last year, Swedish energy giant Vattenfall actually opened the world’s first integrated pilot-scale CCS plant at the Schwarze Pump coal power station, with one caveat: Vattenfall can’t yet bury the sequestered CO2 because it lacks the necessary permits. Instead, the CO2 is released into the atmosphere or sold for industrial cleaning. While the Schwarze Pump project was aimed at proving the technological and economic viability of CCS, those responsibilities may instead fall to GE’s natural gas initiative.
The Gorgon natural gas field is expected to produce 40 trillion cubic feet of gas over 40 years. Instead of allowing CO2 from the extraction process to bubble up into the atmosphere, GE will provide machinery to inject the greenhouse gas into nearby depleted natural gas wells. If all goes as planned, GE’s compression trains will bury 3.3 million tons of CO2 each year up to 2.5 kilometers below the Earth’s surface. The process is expected to cut CO2 emissions by 45 million tons annually.
Most importantly, the GE project will once and for all determine the safety and economic viability of CCS. If carbon capture can succeed in one of the world’s largest natural gas fields, it can work anywhere. We won’t find out the results of the project anytime soon, however–GE will ship its machinery to Gorgon in 2011, and then it will take years to evaluate the CCS initiative’s success.