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Battelle Oil & Gas Newsletter

Battelle Oil & Gas Newsletter

Bringing Carbon Capture and Storage to South Africa

Coal-fired power plants still provide cheap and reliable energy for much of the world – and are a significant contributor to rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) offers a promising solution that could help coal-fired power plants reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90 percent. Battelle is now working to bring CCS to South Africa through an international project funded by the World Bank Group. 

Battelle has been on the forefront of CCS research and development for two decades with a special emphasis on moving carbon storage and utilization for enhanced oil recovery towards deployment. As an example, Battelle leads the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (MRCSP) to develop CCS options for a 10-state region in Midwestern and Eastern United States. This program conducted several small-scale pilot tests of CO2 storage in its validation phase. In the ongoing MRCSP development phase, Battelle is using commercial EOR operations in Michigan to evaluate CO2 injectivity, containment and storage potential with advanced characterization, monitoring and modeling. Since 2003, Battelle has also worked at the Mountaineer Power Plant in West Virginia for the Department of Energy (DOE) and the host power company to characterize the geology and construct the injection and monitoring systems for a first-of-a-kind pilot plant for CCS.  The system was operated successfully and has already completed post-injection monitoring. 

Now, Battelle researchers are leveraging the expertise from these and other research projects to bring CCS to the international energy market. The team has already supported small projects in China and Mexico. The carbon storage pilot project in South Africa is the third in a series of World Bank Group CCS projects that Battelle has been involved with.

CCS could help South Africa, and other countries dependent on coal and other fossil fuels, significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet aggressive Paris Agreement targets. These targets aim to mitigate the risks of climate change by reducing emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses. Coal-fired power plants are the largest single contributor to CO2 emissions worldwide. CCS makes these plants more sustainable by capturing carbon dioxide produced during combustion of fossil fuels before it can enter the atmosphere. CO2 is then transported from the power plant to a storage location, where it is injected into deep geologic formations for permanent storage several kilometers underground. In some cases, the captured CO2 can be used for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) projects. 

For the South African project, Battelle will provide technical advisory services to the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI). The goal is to help plan and carry out the nation’s first pilot-scale carbon dioxide injection, storage and monitoring project. Before that can happen, however, further geologic work is needed to identify a candidate site and reservoir to host the project.

Within the first 18-month phase of the project, Battelle will conduct geological assessments and seismic surveys to evaluate an identified area of interest in the Zululand Basin on the eastern coast of South Africa. In addition, Battelle will lead project management and planning efforts for the project, working with SANEDI to prepare project management, execution, schedule, budget and risk assessment plans.
Beyond technical work, a key objective of the project is an integrated capacity building program to train local students and professionals. The goal is to ensure that South African organizations will be able to plan, construct and operate future carbon capture and storage projects on their own. A key aspect of capacity building is collaboration with local entities such as the South African Council for Geoscience and Petroleum Agency of South Africa. In February, Battelle led the first seminar in this effort, building local knowledge while showcasing Battelle’s technical expertise. The three-day workshop had more than 100 attendees, including local stakeholders, state regulators, policy makers, geoscience researchers and students.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is an important partner in the project. Several PNNL experts have been involved in sample and data analysis both in the U.S. and on the ground in South Africa. Battelle and PNNL have worked together on carbon management projects since the 1990s. Battelle is a contract manager for PNNL and six other national laboratories. 

If one or more qualified sites for CCS have been identified at the conclusion of the initial phase of the project, the project will advance to the site characterization and development phase, which is scheduled to last until 2021.