European researchers are set to launch a new field laboratory this year to assess the best ways to store and monitor carbon dioxide underground. The trouble is, until the real price of carbon makes CCS (for “carbon capture and storage”) economically viable, what works in the field lab might not yet be ready to work in real life.
That’s a concern not only in parts of the world like the US, which has yet to adopt any concrete cap-and-trade scheme for carbon, but even in places like Europe, which has such a programme in place but has seen the price of carbon credits collapse in the ongoing recession.
While a recent estimate pegs the required carbon price for economically viable CCS at around $60 per tonne, carbon in Europe is currently trading at about $13. At that rate, carbon capture and storage is likely to be something we’ll continue to see only in field trials.
However, that’s not stopping European researchers from launching a new study to learn more about how carbon dioxide behaves when it is stored deep underground. Later this year, they plan to start testing the storage capabilities of geological strata below the Svelvik Ridge in southern Norway. Their goal is to refine current understanding to help develop regulations and procedures for CO2 storage monitoring.
“When operations are performed according to the book when CO2 is stored in geological strata, the risk of the gas leaking to the surface is extremely low,” said project manager Menno Dillen, who’s a senior scientists at SINTEF Petroleum Research. “However, it is essential to have good methods of monitoring the behaviour of the CO2 once it is stored. That is what our project will help to do.”
According to SINTEF, which is the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia, no other field laboratory in the world will simultaneously test so many monitoring methods at such depths as the Svelvik Ridge study.
Whatever the results, we’ll still have to wait for the price of carbon to catch up before we see such efforts go commercial. How soon is a question no one appears ready to answer yet.