Moving Forward: A Glimpse of China’s Growing Carbon Capture and Storage Activities in Action

As the international community confronts climate change, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) continues to be one of the leading technical options for reducing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions. Newly-minted in the updated Oxford English Dictionary, CCS is a process integrating a chain of technologies to capture CO2 emissions from major point sources such as fossil fuel plants (coal, oil, natural gas) or other industrial (e.g. cement production) processes and then store the CO2 permanently underground. In some cases, the stored CO2 can be used to enhance production of natural gas and oil. Numerous research and demonstration projects to advance CCS technologies are already underway in China, the U.S., and the rest of the world with more on the way. China and the U.S. are the world’s two largest CO2 emitters and, with their favorable geology as well as their prolific coal resources and consumption, the two could have the most to gain in emission reductions from a fully-developed and deployed CCS network. Although bi- and multi-lateral discussions on which technologies and what approach to employ in limiting CO2 has proven contentious, both the U.S. and China have identified CCS as an important focal point for collaboration. This is evidenced by CCS’ inclusion as a key pillar within the recently established China-US Clean Energy Research Center.

In early August, an international team of CCS experts and stakeholders assembled in China to visit many of the key projects and key players for CCS development in China as a follow-up to the summer ’09, China CCS study tour. Both trips are a product of the ongoing partnership between WRI and Tsinghua University to develop the Guidelines for CCS in China, an effort detailing the technological, procedural, and other multidimensional (e.g. regulations, resource consumption) issues for CCS specifically in China. Below are summaries of the sites visited by the group and some key impressions that Steering Committee members took away.

1. Although Chinese CCS development still lags behind the world leaders, there has been significant and encouraging progress. China is a leader in coal gasification technology, which produces more pure, capture-ready CO2 flue gas streams. Simultaneously, China is catching up in CO2 capture technology. CO2-Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), CO2 storage, and CO2 pipeline transport are all under significant R&D in China.

2. The speed of planning development, construction, and regulatory approval for all types of projects in China, especially energy, is unparalleled in the world. Likewise for CCS. The Shidongkou capture plant effectively went from a patch of grass to fully operational power plant with CO2 capture in a little over a year. The gargantuan Ordos coal-to-liquids (CTL) plant is up and running after only beginning CTL research in the late ‘90s, and GreenGen is nearly complete within almost two years of its conception. Current CCS actions move quickly because they are “voluntary” and not subject to specific regulations. To ensure that large-scale commercial initiatives advance expeditiously but without compromising health, safety, or the environment, WRI research highlights the existing institutions and laws capable of supporting CCS, and also the areas where the Chinese government should improve. The same rings true for large deployment and not just individual projects. At a time when the US is lagging behind in determining and enacting a plan of action, the Chinese companies and government are building large scale projects, giving them an edge in developing technological experience and know-how. It should be noted that rapid regulatory approval results, in part, from a shorter history of environmental legislation and an absence of CCS-specific regulations. Current CCS activities are considered voluntary and not subject to additional approval.

3. The scale of technology investment is enormous, and if seeing is believing, then the manufacturing facilities of Shanghai Electric, a leading manufacturer of CCS-related equipment, are a monument to the effects of this. The size, modernity, and production rate of their plant are first-class, and the plant includes some of the most advanced technology in the world. Shanghai Electric is also a main contributor in constructing China’s target of 28 new nuclear power plants by 2020. 24 of these are already under construction. This scale of investment will help position China to possibly take a lead in energy technology development in the future.

4. China is moving forward with or without everyone else. Faced with economic and environmental pressures, China has immense domestic incentive to create and grow sustainable, new and improved energy technologies and is responding. If results from domestic and international demonstrations as well as key government and other R&D efforts prove promising to the Chinese government, China could become a world CCS leader (and technology exporter) within the next two or three decades. China’s push forward is not without challenges, and key opportunities exist for US-China collaboration that would be mutually beneficial. It is imperative for the US to step up to the plate and engage in meaningful ways, especially expanding existing efforts and beginning new ones in areas like geological site characterization and CO2 storage where the US has a significant edge in experience and technical understanding.

5. While current CCS projects have the luxury of conveniently positioning themselves within arm’s reach of their most essential resources (fuel sources, CO2 sources, and suitable storage sites), as more projects develop in CO2-intensive industries, it will become more and more difficult to avoid intersections with population, land development, and local resource scarcity. How China plans for and manages these situations will be important.

The study tour visited several sites associated with CCS, including where CCS activities are already or soon will be taking place. Brief summaries of a few of the sites are offered below.

PetroChina Jilin Oilfield – Jilin, Liaoning Province
The Jilin Oilfield Complex is the leading site for CO2-EOR research and activities in China. Funded in part through the Chinese National Basic Research Program 973, PetroChina began research in 1990. In 2005, PetroChina discovered large natural gas deposits containing 22.5% CO2 concentrations. This CO2 is now being stripped from natural gas production and condensed before injecting into several oilfields in the complex. PetroChina annually injects 200-300,000 tCO2 via CO2-EOR. At Jilin, it is injected over 2km deep into low permeability sands. At the two fields the group observed, PetroChina expects to enhance recovery by 10-20%. Given the abundant CO2 supply and need for more technical experience, PetroChina is now running these plants as long-term commercial projects and not just short-term pilots. Given that two-thirds of China’s undeveloped oil reserves are in similarly low porosity oil reservoirs and that 95% of PetroChina’s operations already involve water flooding, the potential for CO2-EOR is vast.

Figure 1: Photo of Study Tour Delegation outside of PetroChina's Jilin CO2-EOR Facilities. Those pictured from left to right: Guo Weizhan, Francisco Almendra, Robin Newmark, Zhang Dongjie, PetroChina Employee, Logan West, Li Zheng, Peng Suping, PetroChina Employee, Chen Shaojun, Robert Finley, Sarah Forbes, Elizabeth Wilson, Zheng Song, Elizabeth Sasser, Ming Sung, & Xu Zhaofeng

Shidongkou Power Plants 3 & 4 with CO2 Capture – Shanghai
Plants 3 & 4 are twin, ultra-supercritical, coal-fired power plants located near the Yangtze Delta in northern Shanghai. Each plant has a capacity of 660 MW, using mostly Chinese technology with a boiler from Babcock & Wilcox (US). The plants are additionally equipped with a CO2 capture facility that separates and purifies CO2 from 4% of the total CO2 emissions stream to produce an estimated 120,000 tonnes of food grade CO2 a year making it the largest in China and one of the largest capture projects at a coal-fired power plant in the world. The product, used predominantly for food packing dry ice and beverage carbonation, is sold on the market for ~¥300/tCO2, roughly the same amount as the operational costs of capturing it. Notably, the plant and especially the capture facilities were completed ahead of schedule and under budget. Capital expenses of US$14.6 MM were considerably under the estimated US$23.5 MM.

Figure 2: Two holding tanks for CO2 separated from Huaneng’s Shidongkou Power Plant

Shanghai Electric Manufacturing Plant – Shanghai
Founded in 1880, Shanghai Electric is the largest equipment manufacturer in China, including in the field of power generation equipment. In addition to being the largest domestic manufacturer of nuclear reactors in China, Shanghai Electric also owns SEWIND, whose 3.6 MW turbine is the largest and most technically advanced offshore wind product in China. Shanghai Electric is and will continue to be one of the domestic leaders in manufacturing equipment for IGCC and Oxyfuel equipment. The company will be instrumental if there is to be large deployment of power sector-related CCS equipment.

Figure 3: Study Tour Delegation in front of Shanghai Electric's SEWIND turbine. Those pictured are from left to right (Upper Row) Zheng Song, Li Yun, Francisco Almendra, Chang Zheng, Deborah Seligsohn, Logan West, Sarah Forbes, Ming Sung, Robin Newmark, Robert Finley, Li Lizhi, Sun Yufei, Elizabeth Wilson, Elizabeth Sasser, (Lower Row) Zhang Wancheng, Huang Jian, Xu Zhaofeng, Li Zheng, Shanghai Electric Host, Shanghai Electric Host, Zhang Dongjie, Yan Jinning, & Ye Ni

Shenhua CTL Process Development Unit (PDU) – Shanghai This Shenhua PDU was the predecessor the CTL plant in Ordos visited during the last study tour. The PDU is China’s first to be designed, constructed, and operated domestically and was the world’s biggest commercial scale coal liquefaction device. It is also the world’s first coal-to-liquid device to reach megawatt-scale production, and it has carried out numerous tests and research. Since 2004, there have been 5 tests conducted at the facility totaling 5,098 hours of operation and 1,520 tons of coal consumed. Amongst other achievements at the center, progress has been made in R&D, with process flow optimized and validated by experiment, providing reliable design data and technical support for fundamental design and modification. The plant now serves as a testing center for process optimization and as a training facility for managers who will move on to the Ordos Plant, which has been up and running itself since Spring 2010 with no unmanageable glitches and with CO2 storage plans progressing rapidly.

For more information on China's CCS initiatives, see
ChinaFAQs fact sheet: "Taking Steps to Capture Carbon"

Photos courtesy of Sarah Forbes.