In an intriguing footnote to their historic climate deal this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama called for demonstration of a hitherto obscure tweak to carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology — one that could simultaneously store more carbon and reduce water consumption. Such an upgrade to CCS holds obvious attraction for China, which is the world’s top carbon polluter and also faces severe water deficits, especially in the coal-rich north and west. Obama and Xi pledged joint funding for a project that would inject 1 million tons of captured carbon dioxide deep underground, annually, and simultaneously yield approximately 1.4 million cubic meters of water. Continue reading “Can China Turn Carbon Capture into a Water Feature?”
Europe and Turkey’s High-Power Embrace
Ethnic and economic tensions may have stalled Turkey’s longstanding bid to join the European Union, but electrical circuits can be color blind. As of September the alternating current on the Turkish power grid will flow in synchrony with Continental Europe’s, according to the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E), which took control of Europe’s power grids last summer.
Yesterday’s announcement means that Turkey can trade electricity with Europe and benefit from the bigger grid’s stability, in turn helping to stabilize the lines in neighboring Bulgaria and Greece. The link will run for at least one year, with power exchanges ramping up in stages.
Turkey’s integration provides hope for would-be regional developers in the Mediterranean, who face rising protectionism, ethnic tensions, and seemingly endless diplomatic bombshells from Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Middle East troubles caused the Union for the Mediterranean organized by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to delay a second summit scheduled to convene in Barcelona yesterday until November, according to the AP. Continue reading “Europe and Turkey’s High-Power Embrace”
The Sahara Reveals its Carbon Capture Success
The market’s blasé reaction to the oil production cut ordered by OPEC ministers meeting in Algeria this week–bad news for greentech investors–topped the Wall Street Journal’s green business blog this week. The more lasting news from the meeting, however, may be the conference sideshow that took journalists to one of the world’s largest carbon capture and storage operations: Algeria’s In Salah natural gas operation, which stores about 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, 1.2 miles below ground.
In Salah, hidden deep in the Sahara desert some 700 miles south of Algiers, is operated by oil and gas giant BP, Norway’s Statoil, and Algerian state oil and gas firm Sonatrach. The field’s gas is about 7% CO2, which must be cut to 2% or less before it can be shipped on to European markets. In Salah cuts the CO2 to 0.3% and, instead of simply venting the removed CO2 as many gas operations do, pumps it into an aquifer below the gas reservoir. Given the scale of the gas flow, it’s the environmental equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the road.
The reporters visiting In Salah this week reported that the CO2 seems to be staying put, as is the case with the other two large-scale CCS operations in operation — the natural gas-stripping operation at Statoil’s Sleipner field in the North Sea, and the Dakota Gasification coal-to-synthetic natural gas operation. The Associated Press quoted Mohamed Keddan, the station manager, expressing confidence that the layer of thick shale sealing the In Salah reservoir would hold the CO2 for good: “If it contained gas for millions of years without leakage, why would it start leaking now?” said Keddan, according to the AP.
Better still, the cost of storing the CO2 is relatively low. Business Week reported that the $100 million CCS operation was just 2.5% of the overall $4 billion cost of the In Salah gas production complex. That puts the cost of sequestering the CO2 at about $14/ton.
At that price BP, Statoil and Sonatrach could eventually make money on the stored CO2 by selling carbon credits earned at In Salah to other polluters, such as coal-fired utilities, facing steeper CCS costs. That is, if future treaties governing greenhouse gas emissions enable CCS operations in developing countries such as Algeria to earn carbon credits — a concept rejected for the time being by international climate negotiators meeting in Poland last week — which could be revived by the time a follow-on to the Kyoto protocol is to be hammered out in Copenhagen twelve months from now.
So, given its success and low cost, why do we hear so little about In Salah, whereas the Dakota Gasification and Sleipner CCS operations enjoy pinup status? Business Week’s correspondent may have hit on the answer, noting that about 2,000 people work at In Salah if one includes the “military units intended to deter attacks by Islamic militants, who are still a serious threat in Algeria.”
Sometimes, and some places, it pays to keep your head down.
This post was created for the Technology Review guest blog: Insights, opinions and analysis of the latest in emerging technologies
Power Struggles and the Mediterranean Ring
‘The Mediterranean Ring’ would make a fitting title for a high-voltage action thriller where cut-throat crime gangs vie for control in the labyrinthine medieval medina’s of North Africa. Alas it is no such thing. And yet this project to connect the power grids of North Africa and Europe does boast a potentially destructive internal power struggle that could stymie its promise — clean power supplies for Europe, economic development for North Africa, and a much needed bond between neighbors.
MedRing’s power struggle spilled into the daylight on November 21, 2005 when power engineers activated a key electrical circuit linking Tunisia and Libya in a key test of the MedRing. For a moment nearly all of the AC power systems of North Africa operated synchronously with those of Europe. Power plants, transmission lines and controls from Syria to Morocco were in electrical conversation with those of the mighty UCTE, whose 240,000 kilometers of high-voltage lines connect 26 European countries. Add links to Turkey and the MedRing would have been complete.
Seven minutes later the grids had broken apart and the test had failed.
It was a tug of war between North African grid control systems that broke the synchronicity. Understanding why isn’t straightforward. Bear with me as I try because the failure of this early trial exemplifies the challenge inherent in connecting a robust power system like the UCTE’s — the world’s biggest — to much weaker grids such as those of North Africa.
Continue reading “Power Struggles and the Mediterranean Ring”
Solar PoweRING the Mediterranean
Engineers working in the teeming cities and lonely deserts of North Africa are creating the last links in a power grid that will ring the Mediterranean Sea. Sharing electricity over this ‘Mediterranean Ring’ could secure Europe’s power supply with clean renewable energy, accelerating North Africa’s development and knitting together two worlds that seem to be racing apart — those of Muslim North Africa and an increasingly xenophobic Europe.
We make the case for all this unabashed optimism in Closing the Circuit – a feature story in this month’s issue of Spectrum. Closing the Circuit is the product of two years of on-again, off-again research that came to fruition with on-site reporting in Libya and Morocco this summer.
The timing is fortuitious: North African countries – in many ways among the most progressive in the Muslim world – face a rising threat of Islamic fundamentalism, including increasingly deadly attacks by Al Qaeda-aligned militants. Economic development and democratization are the best hope for a North African renaissance. At the same time Europe’s growing dependence on Russian oil and gas and desire to slash carbon emissions has intensified interest in North Africa’s energy resources.
The scale of the potential exchange is immense: Analyses by the German government estimate that solar power generated in scorching North Africa could meet Germany’s entire electricity demand. No wonder then that the Union for the Mediterranean launched by French president Nicolas Sarkozy this summer to spur cooperation between Europe and North Africa is fleshing out a “Mediterranean solar plan” as one of its first actions.
The geopolitical and social import could be bigger. Consider what Dominique Maillard, President of French grid operator Réseau de Transport de l’Electricité, said when asked last month what the Mediterranean Ring represents during an interview last month for the European Energy Review. Maillard began his response by noting that the electrical interconnections between the European countries got started in 1951 – well before the signing of the Treaty or Paris, which created a European coal and steel market, and before the Treaty of Rome in 1957. “At the dawn of Europe, energy – and even electrical energy – had therefore already preceded politics,” says Maillard.
The implication by extension is clear: Electrical interconnection can be the forerunner for peaceful codevelopment among the countries of the Mediterranean, even including Israel. Call it informed optimism.
This post was created for Energywise, IEEE Spectrum’s blog on green power, cars and climate