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Avoiding CO2 capture health risks is possible

Nils A. Røkke, SINTEF’s Vice President of Climate Technology
Nils A. Røkke, SINTEF’s Vice President of Climate Technology
Experts at SINTEF believe it is possible to develop efficient CO2 capture technologies without generating harmful emissions.

SINTEF and NTNU are among the leading research institutions in the world in the field of the capture and storage of the greenhouse gas CO2. Their research is being carried out in close collaboration with the industry and other leading research institutions.

Researching a variety of technologies
SINTEF is conducting research into several different CO2 capture technologies involving coal and gas-fired power stations and industrial processes. The three main technologies under the spotlight are the removal of CO2 from exhaust gases following power generation, the removal of carbon from fuels prior to combustion, and the use of oxygen as a combustion gas instead of air.

Among these technologies, the so-called post-combustion process is the most mature. This involves the use of plants that employ chemicals to remove CO2 from exhaust gases. Usually, so-called amines are employed, and the process is termed amine based CO2 capture. A key benefit of amine based CO2 capture is that the technology can be installed in existing industrial plants and power stations. 

Research to eliminate negative health effects
It has been acknowledged for many years that amine based CO2 capture can result in the emission of nitrosamines, which may be harmful to health. Nitrosamines are substances that have been much in focus in connection with the use of nitrates in foodstuffs.  Issues surrounding the formation and control of nitrosamine emissions are a key component of SINTEF’s research activities in this field.

In the light of current uncertainties regarding the role of amines and associated health and environmental concerns, the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy has decided to conduct an inquiry into whether alternative processes should form the basis of the Norwegian Mongstad CO2 capture and storage project.

“SINTEF understands the Ministry’s need to establish a clear and comprehensive overview on this issue”, says Nils A. Røkke, SINTEF’s Vice President of Climate Technology. “We must make sure that we do not simply substitute one environmental problem for another, and for this reason we need more data”.

Negative health effects can be avoided
“It is vital that we resolve this issue”, says Røkke. “We believe it is possible to develop chemical capture technologies without generating negative health effects".

In his opinion it is too early to conclude that CO2 capture using amines will result in emissions that constitute a negative health effect. “We are working to develop systems that can control the level of emissions. We still don’t know enough about the stability of nitrosamines in the environment”.

Calls for international research
SINTEF believes that to shed light on these issues, more research organisations should be incorporated on an international basis. Norway is more than capable of assuming a role among the world leaders in this field. This will place demands on the work we must carry out, and a scientific consensus on the facts must be reached. It would be unfortunate if we put into operation a technology that results in health risks, and doubly so if CO2 capture on a global scale is delayed on the basis of inadequate science. Increased know-how is the key to avoiding such situations.

SINTEF believes that it is vital to carry out research into a variety of CO2 capture technologies. At present, no-one knows which technologies will emerge as the winners. “We must not reject technologies simply because we are yet to resolve all the issues”, says Røkke.