By Nils A. Røkke, director of climate change technology research, SINTEF
A new debate is under way regarding the potential health effects of amine-based technology for scrubbing CO2 emissions from gas-fired power stations. This is the background for the possibility that a decision as to we should invest in a full-scale gas-fired power station at Mongstad will be postponed from 2014 to 2016.
This is an important problem that needs to be taken seriously, not least through more research. SINTEF scientists believe that it will be possible to deal with questions regarding effects on health through technology development and improved knowledge, without having to postpone the construction of a full-scale gas-fired plant with CO2 scrubbing.
A vital technology for the global climate
SINTEF is involved in encouraging the development of several types of climate technology that will enable us to implement the global cuts in greenhouse gases that are essential to reduce global warming. CO2 capture and storage (CCS) is one of the most important technologies that are being developed to reduce global emissions, and is potentially capable of delivering almost 20 percent of the cuts we need to make between now and 2050.
It is also an important technology for easing the transition from a fossil fuel-based energy economy to a more sustainable one. This is important for Norway as an important exporter of oil and gas, both of which release greenhouse gases when they are burned.
Better understanding of HSE aspects needed
Carbon capture and storage involves utilising relatively well-known technology in a new context and on a larger scale than before. These aspects mean that we need to avoid creating new problems through the use of CO2 scrubbing technology. We have already pointed out that HSE problems related to nitrosamines and nitramines can be solved via technological development and improved understanding, and recent results point in the same direction. These efforts must continue, and we want to contribute our knowledge and resources to them.
On the basis of the international results that we have seen so far, and our own measurements and evaluation, SINTEF believes that any problems of health related to amine technology can be solved, and that there are no grounds for postponing the construction of a full-scale gas-fired power plant incorporating CCS.
Full-scale gas scrubbing at other sites than Mongstad
Norway has already taken daring steps in the field of CCS. We have been storing CO2 deep beneath the seabed since 1996 and are now on the point of realising the important international CCS Technology Centre (TCM) at Mongstad.
However, the important point is full-scale scrubbing, about which warnings of postponements and cost overruns regarding Norwegian plants, most recently at Mongstad, are a recurring topic. A decision as to whether or not to invest in this facility has now been postponed until 2016.
It is high time to re-assess the location and processes involved in realising Norway’s first full-scale CCS facility. SINTEF has already pointed out other methods of implementing gas-fired power stations with CCS more rapidly and with less use of taxpayers’ money on a number of occasions. We have also suggested that the first full-scale facility of this sort should be located elsewhere than at Mongstad. This should now be followed up if Norway is still serious about establishing full-scale CCS.
International responsibility and acceptance
Seen in isolation, the postponement of a full-scale CCS facility in Norway is of minor importance, because any reductions in Norwegian emissions due to CCS would be tiny on a global scale. However, it is important as regards technology development, particularly within the European Union. The UK and the European Union have their own programmes for CCS, both of which include more ambitious plans for implementing full-scale coal-fired power-plant scrubbing than Norway, while this country has assumed a pioneering role in gas-fired power-station CCS.
In an international context, it is now essential for us to consider carefully just what we are planning, doing and communicating about CCS. Norwegian evaluations and decision regarding effects on health, costs and implementation timetables are of great international importance. Such evaluations therefore need to be given a solid factual basis. It is important to reach international scientific consensus about central aspects of CCS. This is a particularly significant issue for Norway, which is working hard to have CCS included as an approved measure in the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), where we saw good progress being made at the recent CoP16 climate summit in Cancun.
The Norwegian government has a particular responsibility to initiate research that will enable us to clarify any problems regarding effects on health as soon as possible. It is of decisive importance that information and evaluations regarding these aspects should be made available for open dialogue and discussion by national and international experts.