Masdar, the company whose name graces Abu Dhabi's model green city, is heading up another eco-friendly scheme to reduce the emirate's environmental impact.
Captured, carbon can be an ally
ABU DHABI // In an ambitious effort to cut polluting emissions while developing heavy industry, Abu Dhabi is planning an emirate-wide carbon-capture scheme orchestrated by Masdar. The unprecedented plan would initially involve 300km of pipeline to link a hydrogen power plant and facilities to collect carbon dioxide from three sites - a steel plant in Musaffah, an aluminium smelter in Taweelah and a hydrogen power station also likely to be located in Taweelah, according to Bader al Lamki, a project manager at Masdar who heads the firm's carbon capture efforts.
"Masdar is going to convert a threat into an opportunity," Mr Lamki said, calling the plan "a complete integrated solution" for "a growing economy that needs gas and enhanced oil recovery". The carbon dioxide would be sold to the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) and pumped into ageing oil fields to squeeze out more oil. Most fields lose pressure after years of production, and Adnoc currently reinjects natural gas that emerges from reservoirs with oil, one type of a process that the industry calls enhanced oil recovery.
Masdar - officially known as the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company - plans to collect 6.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year from the three facilities, Mr Lamki said. All three are still under construction or in the planning stages, but the carbon-capture project should be up and running by 2013, he said. The project would thrust Abu Dhabi to the forefront of a global effort to capture and store emissions from fossil fuels underground, a method under development in several countries that is seen as a bridging measure to protect the environment until carbon-free energy sources become more developed in the next few decades. It would also free up a huge amount of natural gas at a time when the UAE is suffering a supply crunch and seeking to import gas from neighbouring countries.
Officials at Emirates Aluminium, the company behind the smelter in Taweelah, previously confirmed they were in talks with Masdar to capture emissions, but Masdar has not before set out in detail its plans for a unified, emirate-wide system for carbon capture and storage. The UAE emits 60 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year per person, making it one of the world's top contributors to greenhouse-gas emissions per capita, Mr Lamki said. Masdar aims to cut those emissions by one-third by 2020, even as the economy continues to grow and more heavy industry is developed.
Part of Masdar's scheme involves slashing emissions from the power industry, a sector that accounts for 43 per cent of the country's industrial carbon emissions. In January, the company announced plans for a US$2.5 billion (Dh8.8bn) scheme to separate natural gas into carbon dioxide and hydrogen through a chemical process, and use the latter to power a 420-megawatt plant. The electricity generated by the project will total six per cent of current generation capacity and be sufficient to meet the needs of the Yas and Saadiyat Island developments, according to David Binnie, the general manager of Hydrogen Energy, a joint venture between BP and Rio Tinto that has been selected to manage the hydrogen project.
The project was still at the front-end engineering and design phase, Mr Binnie said, with a final nod from Masdar expected next year. He said the plant would be operational by the first quarter of 2013. "In Masdar, we see a partner who shares a common vision and has the resources and commitment to succeed." In contrast to the carbon-capture process at the hydrogen power plant, emissions from the steel plant and smelter would be filtered out of smokestack emissions and compressed into pipelines, Mr Lamki said, a process experts call "post-combustion" capture.
At a conference in Abu Dhabi yesterday, experts emphasised that carbon capture and storage was an expensive and lengthy procedure whose risks remained uncertain as long as international regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions remained unresolved. "There is no room for huge profits in the CCS business," said Gulshan Dua, the vice president at SNC Lavalin, an engineering firm that completed a study on carbon-capture opportunities for Abu Dhabi.
Masdar will make money by selling the carbon dioxide and electricity it generates at the hydrogen plant. Mr Lamki said negotiations over prices were ongoing, both with Adnoc and the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (Adwea). He declined to provide a price tag for the entire project. "To address the cost, it requires we do the right level of engineering first," he said. Experts yesterday agreed that the availability of carbon dioxide for use in enhanced oil recovery could be a boon both for Adnoc and the country's power-hungry economy.
Mr Binnie said current carbon dioxide injection projects in Texas had been able to increase oil production by between 2.5 and 3.5 barrels for every tonne of gas injected. If the same rates hold up in Abu Dhabi, carbon dioxide could unlock three billion barrels of reserves over the project's lifetime, he said. The carbon dioxide would also displace the injections of natural gas, which would be freed for use in power generation and petrochemical facilities. Mr Binnie estimated Masdar's initiatives could make 1.8 billion cubic feet of gas available per day, nearly as much as Qatar exports to the UAE through the recently opened Dolphin pipeline.