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Should We Build More Noah’s Arks to Store Carbon Emission?

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Yohanes Nuwara's picture
Geophysicist, owner of terra-analitika Bandung Institute of Technology

I'm a geophysicist, a B.Sc in geophysics from Bandung Institute of Technology, the top-rank university in Indonesia. I did lots of achievements during my bachelor study. I was awarded the Most...

  • Member since 2020
  • 1 items added with 4,148 views
  • Jan 30, 2020 2:16 pm GMT

This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-01 - Predictions & Trends, click here for more

Key Points:

  • Zero Routine Flaring initiative released by IEA last year is a positive sign for large-scale deployment of CCS this year.
  • Currently, we have 33 large-scale CCS fields, 50 in planned for operational fields, and 75 pilot project fields.  
  • In 2020, from 33 fields we still have 36 million tons of carbon dioxide captured and stored per annum, only 1.2% of the 2,800 million tons per annum targeted by 2050.
  • A simulation shows that if we maximized these 50 + 75 fields to be operational for large-scale fields from 2020 to 2050, we could surpass the above target.
  • Current CCS key players in North America and Europe are already the Early Majority, in Australia and Northeast Asia are the Early Adopters. However, major Innovators are still very rare in Southeast Asia, preferably Indonesia.
  • The future market in 2020 should be re-thought: Startups, Nigerian basins, Indonesia’s gas field in Natuna Sea, and combination with hydrogen market.

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We have been now in 2020, the second decade of the twenty-first century. People face the increasingly worrisome that climate change has approached us faster than it was predicted. The outcome of Paris COP 21 in 2015 highlighted the obligation of countries to pledge by themselves in contributing to stabilize the temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Approximately 60 percent of the efforts pledged were related to the mitigation of greenhouse gases from the energy sector, mainly fossil fuel energy. There will be another decade before 2030 when all the countries’ pledges to the Paris Agreement will be judged – our humanity too. If we could not successfully achieve the target, the rise of global temperature will be above 2 degrees Celsius or our climate is crumbling. But, how if we could?

Gas flaring in the North Sea

We could, only if we start to curb the global emission by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030. This calculation is according to the report addressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC in October last year. One way to achieve carbon-neutral business in oil and gas industry is through significant conversion from flaring practices in the onshore and offshore rigs to carbon capture. Stack flaring practice is a nearly 150-year-old practice to burn the hydrocarbon additives and therefore emit massive carbon dioxide emission to the atmosphere from the combustion process. According to The World Bank, approximately 140 billion cubic meters of natural gas is flared, soaring up the emission to as large as 300 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. In November last year, Zero Routine Flaring (ZRF) initiative was announced by the World Bank. There are in total of 27 countries, 34 oil companies, and 15 development institutions that endorsed the ZRF initiative. World Bank’s initiative is a brilliant kickstart to promote carbon-neutral, or the so-called net zero-carbon business, to meet this target by the deadline.

World map of country and oil company endorsers of Zero Routine Flaring initiative (Source: IEA)

The initiative released last year is of course a positive sign that will bring worldwide interest much closer toward what we know as Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS). CCUS might be an alien to some people around the globe who have not known yet or heard of, however, this article would like to stress the importance of knowing about CCUS as a larger part of humanity in 2020. It is so for humanity – Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage is a technology that reduces carbon dioxide emission by injecting it deep into the earth, either for long time and permanent storage so the carbon dioxide “vanishes” or utilizing the injected carbon dioxide for other purposes, mostly to recover oil in depleted fields. The implementation of CCUS surely helps global energy companies to reduce their carbon footprint and make their business net-zero carbon.

This technology had persisted since 1972 and made terrific success, for instance in Weyburn field located in Saskatchewan, Canada, and Sleipner field in the North Sea, 250 kilometers off-coast Stavanger, Norway. In Weyburn, carbon dioxide is sourced from a coal-fired power plant owned by SaskPower and injected in a total amount of 3 million tons per annum (Mtpa). Early in January this year, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate proposed to grant investment a total of 54 million Euros for the development of CCUS, currently the largest CCUS investment in the world. Also, earlier last year the United Kingdom government invested 26 million Euros after the government passed a law for net-zero carbon emission by 2050.

The question now is, has it to be global importance to eradicate carbon dioxide emission? Last year, International Energy Agency (IEA) released its annual World Energy Outlook that described the scenario to reach the Paris Agreement target by 2050, called the Sustainable Development Solutions or SDS. It stated that CCUS would contribute to 9% part of the total reduction of emission, larger than the contribution from fuel switching (8%), nuclear (3%), and others, only if the amount of global carbon dioxide captured and stored achieved 2.8 billion tons each year. In addition, Global CCS Institute, a world-leading institution for CCS, simplified the message in its Global Status Report as an alternative to the above statement outlined by IEA: “To achieve the levels outlined in the SDS, the number of industrial-scale facilities needs to increase a hundredfold, from 19 in operation now to more than 2,000 by 2040.” Hearing this statement would possibly cause someone feeling pessimistic. Why? Increasing a hundredfold would mean we have to add as much as 99 commercial CCS fields each year to reach 2,000 fields until 2040. With only 19 in operation now is way too far from this target. It is a hard business. However, CCS will be part of a very important global energy business. Is it really true that we have to add new CCS fields by a hundredfold and is it a realistic illustration? Answering a challenging question should always do with mathematics, and dive deep into data.

Rolling the Dice

Today’s most complete information database that could be easily found online is the world map of CCS projects distribution released and updated each year by the Scottish CCS organization on their official website. Currently, there are 33 large-scale operational fields, 55 fields to be planned for operational soon (in planning), and 70 pilot projects. The 33 operational fields have carbon dioxide captured and stored capacity ranging from 0.02 to 7 million tons of carbon dioxide per annum. Operated under ExxonMobil company, the Shute Creek Gas Processing Facility in Wyoming, the United States of America is today’s largest carbon dioxide capture capacity of 7 million tons per annum sourced from La Barge gas fields. The figure below is the distribution plot of carbon dioxide captured and stored capacity from each of the current 33 existing fields.  


The total amount of carbon dioxide captured from these 33 fields is 36 million tons per annum, which is still only 1.2% of the targeted 2,800 million tons of carbon dioxide stored in 2050 to reach the target outlined in the SDS. The gap is 2,764 million tons! We must fill in the gap. Remember that apart from these 33 operational fields, we still have 55 planned operational projects and 70 pilot projects, in a total of 125 projects that are very potential to be operational before 2050. You must have been guessed our next question: If we develop all of these 125 projects in the span of 30 years starting from this year to 2050, could we possibly fill in the gap?

We use Monte Carlo simulation to find out if the total carbon dioxide captured and stored capacity from all of these 125 additional fields could fill the gap to reach our target by 2040. Monte Carlo is a kind of statistical simulation game that measures the probability of something based on something that is also uncertain. The reason to use Monte Carlo is unavailable data of captured carbon dioxide capacity from some in-planning and pilot fields, therefore we should approach the distribution using probability. Anyone can do this simulation at home. Throw two dices at the same time, multiply the numbers, then repeat this experiment one hundred times. Rather than doing it directly, it would be better to simulate it on the computer. Readers could find out more about the simulation and run it through the author’s repository in GitHub. In this case, the population of our data is 125, so we generate 125 random numbers representing the captured and store carbon dioxide capacity ranging from 0.1 to 7 (in the unit of million tons per annum), multiply each by a random population, and see the result. What conclusion do we get?

The result of the simulated Monte Carlo distribution plot above gives us a conclusion that 80% chance we have a total capacity of captured and stored carbon dioxide ranging from about 34,000 to 40,500 million tons per annum, far beyond the gap that we must fill in. If we repeated the simulation by decreasing the population to, say for instance, 75, and narrowing down the range from 0.02 to 5, we would come up with an 80% chance of capacity between 14,500 to 17,000 million tons per annum, which is still far beyond the gap. This result addresses us a message that only opening these existing in planning and pilot CCS fields into operation from this year to 2050 will allow us to reach the target of 9% global emission reduction as outlined in the SDS, even could be with 3% bonus reduction! In other words, the illustration of “a hundredfold” is not realistically true, and yet CCS is an easy business.

The Innovators and The Laggards

Do we still have to build new CCUS? To get this idea adopted in the energy sector and accelerate the learning rate of this technology, we should understand who the innovators and who the laggards are. Referring to a book of Diffusion of Innovation written by Everett M. Rogers and reflecting it to the year we live in now, the major players of Carbon Capture and Storage technology are the Early Adopters. They are the visionaries, that according to Rogers, represents 13.5% of the population of the players.

Learning adoption curve referring to E. M. Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation book           

We could easily identify who the innovators are. These are the enthusiasts. Oil companies such as Statoil ASA that started CCS in Sleipner field in the North Sea, the collaboration between Shell and SaskPower that realized the largest CCS deployment for coal-fired power plant in Saskatchewan in Canada, countries such as Algeria that started CCS in the middle of In Salah open desert, Australia that opened today’s second-largest Gorgon CCS project in the last three years, and South Africa that initiated a large-scale CCS very far in the southern part of Africa. All of these innovators have the same in common – innovators are anyone who kickstarts the innovation which deals with a new place and new situation, regardless of the risk they face. Composing only 2.5% of the total population, these innovators are the trendsetters of many success stories of CCS on its struggle to save the climate and the source of today’s learning.

In Northern America and Europe, the majority of the players have been already now the Early Majority. The U.S. Department of Energy has a massive repository of CCS database, partly opened to the public, as a service to whoever researchers or oil company players. This database includes mostly the geological model of prospective basins, geological reports, maps, seismic data, and rock lab test data that reduces the cost of exploration. For instance, doing a 3D seismic survey offshore requires large budgets to use seismic vessels. With these reduced costs, these people become attracted to invest in CCS, become the customers, and hence the Early Majority.

Photos of the established CCS in totally different landscapes, clockwise: the Sleipner in the offshore North Sea, the Saskatchewan SaskPower capture from a coal-fired plant, the CarbFix in mountainous Hellisheidi geothermal in Iceland, and the large Gorgon in the coast of Australia.

Currently, there are approximately 10 CCS operational fields spread over Northeast Asia, mostly in China, followed by Japan. Tomakomai CCS project is the largest large-scale demonstration project in Asia where the carbon dioxide captured from a hydrogen production in oil refinery plants and injected on the Japanese coast as much as 0.1 to 0.2 million tons per annum. Currently, Japan is thinking the way forward about the possibility of recycling carbon dioxide from storage for industrial uses, called the methanation process. With huge support from the government, CCS has been part of its business and zero-carbon ambition. These countries in Northeast Asia are the Early Adopters. The Early Majority phase seems to be not far from 2020. Surprisingly in South Asia, there is one operational CCS project called the Carbon Clean Solutions Demonstration Plant in Tamil Nadu, India, that has been operational since 2016. Although it is not stored underground, as much as 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide are captured from a coal-fired plant in Tuticorin, and recycled for manufacturing chemical raw materials.

The estimated cost of Carbon Capture and Storage (Source: IPCC)

In Southeast Asia, researches and developments of CCS are financially supported by Asian Development Bank through its Clean Energy Financing Partnership Facility started in July 2009. In 2013, the financing organization released a report that highlighted the CCS prospects in Southeast Asia. According to the report, Southeast Asia has lots of prospective basins. South Sumatra basin is a promising basin for carbon storage in Indonesia. In contrast, players in CCS technology are still very rare in Southeast Asia, preferably Indonesia. Indonesia is an oil and gas country that has unlocked the potentials of qualified sedimentary basins for carbon dioxide storage. In 2018, 92% of the energy production and consumption is dominated by fossil fuel energy (32% coal, 28% gas, and 32% oil) and the other 9% is the renewables. Carbon dioxide sources are uncountable. There is still a lack of environmental management, such as the greenhouse gas emission control, in major energy sectors. Especially in offshore rigs, the oil and gas are still processed using flare stack combustion. As a major player in the coal energy business, innovations in the technology of carbon dioxide emission capture are still rare. The competence of human resources is still far below standard. They are also uncompetitive to modern changes. In response to the dynamic global business of CCS, these players are most likely to be the Late Majority or even the Laggards group. There are many factors that make the population of Late Majority and Laggards, including regulation, government priority, human resource, pessimism, and economic incentive. How can we solve this gap?

Coal business has changed the landscape of Indonesia forever

Finding the Future Market

We have discussed previously that if we maximized most of the current 125 in-planned and pilot fields, we could achieve the global emission reduction target. We also have discussed previously the gap between the Innovators – Early Adopters in North America, Europe, Australia, and North Asia, with the Laggards that still dominate Southeast Asia and partly Africa. The year 2020 is the time to rethinking and reshaping a global CCS business strategy to attract more innovators to be new players in this zero-carbon technology. There are five strategies to be offered.

First, the start-up business model is an ideal business model for future CCS businesses. As major oil companies and energy sector business have played as a major player, the emergence of start-up companies will make the business grows more competitive. Most start-ups have special characteristics of being the Innovators – they invent a more efficient technology, search for a prospective and strategic market for investment, play with risk, deliver a business message more creative, and engage customers faster. These start-ups will be in the business of service company, research, and development, or think thank for major companies. An example of a worldwide well-established research and development center is a Norwegian company SINTEF. It was established in 1950 and it keeps growing now to become Europe’s largest research and development center that pays attention to energy and climate conservation. SINTEF has an important role in the CCS activities in the Sleipner field. Since major oil and gas companies have all the latest and most cutting-edge technologies, start-ups should market their unique ideas and technological innovations to energy sectors such as coal-fired power plant industries. These industries mostly do not have access to advanced technologies, therefore more start-ups that could match with their need to capture and store carbon dioxide emission will be very demanded and grow exponentially.

Research members in SINTEF (Source: SINTEF)

Second, there are so many promising sites for Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage, mainly in Africa and Southeast Asia. Nigeria is one of few countries in Africa that endorsed the Zero Routine Flaring initiative by IEA last year. We should appreciate this drive since we already know the carbon dioxide emission that is massively soared up into the atmosphere from gas flaring in the Niger Delta. These are the most potential carbon dioxide source, that should be captured and injected into deep geological storage. Additionally, Indonesia has one problem from its largest gas field, the East Natuna D-Alpha field in the Natuna Sea. It is said so because the gas field has very high carbon dioxide content reaching 72%. For average gas fields worldwide, this content is unfavorable for production, unless the carbon dioxide is separated and captured. In fact, the field has a gas resource of nearly 130 trillion cubic feet of gas that are sourced from 1.5 kilometers thick reservoir. In 2020, Indonesia should re-think this golden opportunity of CCS deployment in the Natuna D Alpha field. It would be the first commercial CCS in Southeast Asia.

Gas flaring in Niger Delta (left) and Ensco rig in East Natuna D-Alpha Field (right)


Third, a market combination of CCS with hydrogen fuel energy business is very possible. Since last year, the development of hydrogen energy to replace fossil fuel has been a tremendous hype everywhere in most European countries. Hydrogen produced from chemical and manufacturing industries is captured and stored underground in deep and safe formations such as salt caverns, then reused for fuel supply. Theoretically, hydrogen fuel has much less carbon dioxide emissions than fossil fuel. Up to recently, there are more than 105 hydrogen gas stations throughout Germany, Austria, and France. Most of these stations are operated under Shell or Total company, supplying hydrogen fuel for vehicles. It is reported that there are 47 hydrogen stations in progress for operational.

Hydrogen fuel station in Germany, Austria, and France. The green colours are current stations, the blue colours are future stations (Source:

Also, earlier this year the United Kingdom planned to operate a hydrogen gas network for city gas supply. This is truly a surprising energy transformation. Otherwise, to make use of this opportunity for CCS, we could possibly build new industries that hybridize hydrogen and CCS. This year, the International Energy Agency published its 2020 Energy Transition Report that interestingly caught the attention of every reader. IEA shared a schematic called “Low-Carbon Methane and Hydrogen Supply”. It stressed out the possibility of a market combination between hydrogen and carbon capture to produce low-carbon methane fuel. Electrolysis and methanation are two technologies useful to make this route possible. Carbon dioxide captured from plants could be either stored or transported to a hydrogen market to be processed through methanation or electrolysis to produce low-carbon methane products and low-carbon hydrogen fuel. After all, this market combination would attract both more innovators and more major energy companies to invest in CCS business.

Low-carbon methane and hydrogen supply (Source: IEA)


High-level decisions in energy sector industries and strategic government policies are together the most important pillars of future zero-carbon energy production and consumption, notably to foster the development of Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage technologies. We have also learned that started from this year, we should allocate to develop the remaining 125 existing CCS in-planned and pilot fields to be operational for the purpose of achieving the global emission reduction target of CCS by 9% outlined in the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario and even surpassing the target with bonus. New and fresh strategies such as creating startups in CCS businesses, developing CCS in the most lucrative yet high-carbon-content fields such as the Niger delta in Nigeria and offshore Natuna D Alpha field in Indonesia, and designing a combination between the hydrogen energy market and carbon capture, will promote the merge of CCS in both local and major energy industries and also accelerate its rate of adoption worldwide. In the long run, CCS will become a major part of global economics for the upcoming years to come.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 30, 2020

Thanks for the really thorough analysis, Yohanes. I wonder what your thoughts are on whether the political capital to push these technologies is there, given many will take investment in them as a permissions slip to continue emitting carbon

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Feb 2, 2020

Yes, there is progress with CCS. Another project is the Northern Lights CCS project in Norway, the wells for which are now being drilled.

But costs per ton to capture and store CO2 remain high.  And most of the CCS planned is with produced gas streams from which the CO2 has to be removed anyway, in order to liquefy the methane. Even still, the CO2 that is separated is still being vented.

In the meantime,  large scale routine flaring and venting of methane continues.  And leaks go undetected.  The contents of this article should be a source of shame for the E&P industry and the US government and especially the states of Texas and North Dakota.  Readers will know that methane is a potent greenhouse gas with the GWP (Greenhouse Warming Potential) of 28–36 times that of carbon dioxide over 100 years.

Most of the venting, leaking and flaring of methane is preventable.  A great deal is vented simply because the operator is unwilling to fix leaks or wait for infrastructure to be built to produce the oil in a responsible way.   Venting, leaking and flaring are incredible wastes of resources.  The Trump administration wants to dispense with even having to report the releases. 

This one is just awful. Exxon should be fined for each ton of gas released. 

The volume of US natural gas that was reported as vented and flared reached its highest average annual level of 1.28 Bfc/D in 2018, according to a new report from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). That´s billions of cubic feet per day. More goes unreported.

Texas and North Dakota accounted for 51% and 31%, respectively, of the total reported US vented and flared natural gas. The EIA said that both states are working with producers to limit the need for flaring without shutting down or affecting production of crude oil from new wells. Venting is banned in North Dakota and restricted in Texas.  Laws are simply ignored, with impunity. It is possible that authorities in those states can help reduce the abuse.  It might help if the EPA stepped in. That is not likely.

Energy independence is a great thing for the US. Please don´t tell me that this is the price that has to be paid for it.  It is not.  These are not, for the most part,  cash strapped small operators who cannot afford the necessary investment to maintain tanks.  Detection is simply a matter of $5,000 or so investment in the infra-red camera.   The operators know that the sale of the gas that they are venting, leaking and flaring will more than make up the investment costs. 

The E&P industry can do so much better.  The very same operators would not dream of doing the same in other countries. Why are they allowed to operate so slovenly in the US?

However, even better technology is removing any excuse to continue business as usual.

In 2016, GHGSat launched the world’s first satellite (“Claire”) designed to measure greenhouse gas emissions from industrial facilities. Claire has since taken thousands of measurements, covering over a million square kilometers of the Earth’s surface, identifying previously undetected methane leaks which operators were then able to address.

Public samples of these measurements are available on GHGSat’s website. The company will be launching two more high-resolution emissions monitoring satellites in 2020 that will have an order of magnitude improvement in performance and detection thresholds.

Regulators must take note and legislate to ensure that at least the most egregious venting and flaring stops.  The result can ultimately reduce costs, create jobs and, most importantly, drastically reduce GHG emissions.  The alternative is just wrong.

It is to be hoped that the offending individuals and companies are named, shamed and prosecuted.


Richard Ford's picture
Richard Ford on Feb 8, 2020

I think the most practical way to store carbon in the ground is to stop mining coal instead of burning it, then trying to stuff the 2,154 cubuc feet of carbon dioxide from each cubic foot of coal back inside the earth.  Carbon dioxide can be compressed to a liquid, but that takes lots of electrcity to run compressors.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 8, 2020

Yohanes, 33 million tons of CO2 captured and stored sounds impressive. But if this claim is unverifiable, it's worthless for helping to prevent climate change. And it is, in fact, unverifiable by any third party, isn't it?

Let's proceed under the generous assumption it's verifiable. To help the more energy-illiterate among us understand the insignificance of 33 million tons in the grand scheme of things, it would take 1,121 times as much CCR to store the 37 billion tons of fossil-related CO2 being emitted each year - a drop in the bucket. Insignificant, isn't it?

"Carbon, Capture, Utilization, and Storage" (CCUS) appears very much to be a rebranding of "Enhanced Oil Recovery" (EOR), after it was exposed for what it was: a means to make extracting oil out of wells where production was lagging, i.e., make oil extraction / environmental destruction even more obscenely profitable than it is already.

If this is an accurate assessment, CCUS, EOR, CCR, and other related terms can be conveniently assembled under either the umbrella category of Permanent Environmental Destruction for Profit (PEDP), or Excuses to Continue Business-As-Usual (ECBAU). Is it?

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