Capturing carbon emissions before they can be released to the atmosphere and storing them safely and permanently is a key part of national efforts to curb climate change. This process, called carbon capture and storage (CCS), is also a critical component of the President’s Climate Action Plan.
Meeting the Energy Department’s goal of having CCS technologies ready for demonstration in the 2020–2025 timeframe requires the development of new approaches to reduce the 20–30 years typically required for commercial deployment of new technology concepts. Two collaborative efforts—the Carbon Capture Simulation Initiative (CCSI) and the National Risk Assessment Partnership (NRAP)—led by the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory are using predictive computational modeling to address the challenges associated with carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage.
Computational modeling involves developing mathematical equations and computer code to simulate the real-life behavior of engineered and natural systems. Models are developed to study and help solve problems in complex systems, considering the effect of multiple independent variables. The use of these models allows for more efficient, timely, and cost-effective technology development and deployment. Computational modeling is being successfully used in a variety of disciplines, from aerospace engineering to drug development and urban design.
Accelerating Carbon Capture Technology Development
CCSI is a public-private partnership among five national laboratories, several academic institutions, and industry stakeholders. CCSI has brought together a remarkable, broad set of skills required for solving the challenges of carbon capture. The technical team’s efforts are informed by feedback from a 20-member industry advisory board.
Through strategic collaborations, cooperative research and development agreements, and nondisclosure agreements, the team has developed the CCSI Toolset, a suite of computational tools and models that will enable the rapid development and deployment of new carbon capture technologies. The use of these computational tools is expected to reduce technology development time by 25 percent and cost by an estimated $500 million. Further, the Toolset enables industry to use science-based models with pilot-scale data to reach larger scales more quickly and with greater confidence, thereby reducing the time and expense of scale-up.
The CCSI Toolset works with commercial and open-source software currently used by industry and includes new software tools and models developed to fill technology gaps. The tools are highly versatile; in addition to their uses in carbon capture technologies development, they can be used to accelerate the development of related technologies used for refining, chemicals production, and oil and natural gas production. The Toolset has been well received by CCSI’s industry partners, with multiple partners executing nonexclusive licensing agreements.
Defining Risks Associated with Long-Term CO2 Storage
Full-scale carbon storage requires the injection of millions of tons of CO2 into geological formations. The effectiveness of carbon storage will depend on the ability of a specific site to store CO2 permanently.
Assessing carbon storage risk is complicated by the high degree of variability between geologic storage sites; factors such as local geology, the presence of existing wellbores, and subsurface faults or fractures make each site unique. In addition, the characteristics of a site change over time. Despite these complexities, predicting the behavior of a storage site is central to effective risk management strategies for both operators and regulators.
NRAP was formed t to develop the risk assessment tools needed for safe, permanent geologic CO2 storage. NRAP’s collaborative research is conducted at five of the Energy Department’s national laboratories, with participation from various university partners. The NRAP initiative receives input from industry, government, non-government organizations, and academia regarding research on storage. NRAP also keeps abreast of international developments by participating in collaborations such as the International Energy Agency Greenhouse Gas Research and Development Programme’s Risk Assessment Network.
The partnership has delivered first-generation predictive models that, for the first time, offer a means to quantitatively forecast the probability of potential impacts-of-concern that could arise from specific CO2 storage sites. The models calculate risk profiles that can be used to quantify the likelihood of long-term risks and liabilities, as well as help design efficient monitoring programs for risk-based standards.
The NRAP models and the improved scientific base developed by the collaborative will help operators design and apply monitoring and mitigation strategies. They will help regulators and their agents quantify risks and perform cost-benefit analyses for specific CCS projects. Stakeholders will benefit from knowledge that a strong science-based approach was utilized to predict long-term safety. Finally, financiers and regulators will be able to invest in and approve CCS projects with greater confidence because costs of long-term liability can be estimated more easily and with less uncertainty.
This month, NETL and other Energy Department national laboratories are showcasing the impact of partnerships and collaborations with universities, the private sector, and other government agencies on scientific innovation and technological advancements addressing our nation’s energy challenges. For more information, please visit the Energy Department’s national lab webpage.