The UAE's contribution to climate change could earn worldwide recognition, if funding can be found for further programmes.
A capital move to cut carbon emissions
Abu Dhabi says it will start using groundbreaking technology to cut carbon emissions by 2012, putting the emirate at the forefront of global efforts to bury carbon pollution underground. Within two years, Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Government's clean energy firm, will install equipment to splice out carbon gas from the emissions of the Emirates Steel Industries plant in Musaffah, said Sam Nader, the director of the firm's carbon management unit.
The emissions cut at the steel plant, as part of larger schemes at three power plants, and the burial of the carbon gas in oil wells after 2015, will form a major part of the emirate's strategy to reduce its high level of emissions. Abu Dhabi's efforts would serve as one of the world's first real tests of the costs of carbon capture and storage technology, and oil and gas industry experts have hailed the technique as a key solution for preventing climate change.
Coupling carbon capture with the deployment of solar energy and the construction of nuclear power plants, which do not emit any carbon, the emirate could cut emissions from its power generation sector from between 25 and 30 per cent by 2020, said David Scott, the executive director of the Executive Affairs Authority. "This is one of the few technologies that actually preserves the value of hydrocarbons in a carbon-constrained world," he said. "The Government of Abu Dhabi is interested in carbon capture and storage on the basis of its environmental impact and its ability to mitigate carbon emissions.
"The UAE is very cognizant of the fact that its per capita carbon emissions level is about five times that of the world average." The emissions will be injected into oilfields to raise output and displace about 60 million cubic feet per day of valuable natural gas currently left in the reservoirs. But even with these extra revenues, the technology would probably remain commercially unfeasible beyond the initial projects without international funding or domestic changes in the law, Mr Nader said.
"Commercial viability is still under study and is not clear to us," he said. "We need international support because the cost is very high." Government officials had hoped that, at its summit in Copenhagen last month, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change would approve a rule change to give carbon capture projects financial support from the Clean Development Mechanism. A decision on the change was blocked and looks unlikely to go ahead within the next year, experts say.
Mr Nader said that at this stage, much of the project would be paid for with direct funding from the Abu Dhabi Government. However, Masdar was working with the Government to create an incentive for private investors to get involved in future projects. "We want to provide a model where the Government acts as an owner and developer but at a certain stage, moves to become the catalyst for the market participation," he said.
Masdar has completed initial engineering on the steel plant project and would award a construction contract for the facility later this year, he said. The equipment would each year absorb about 800,000 tonnes of carbon annually that is emitted as a byproduct of the steel-making process. By 2014, Masdar will install technology to capture carbon at two power stations in Taweelah operated by Taweelah Asia Power Company and Emirates Aluminium.
Masdar will also capture 1.7 million tonnes of carbon at the hydrogen-fuelled plant it is building at Shuweihat, in Al Gharbia, in partnership with BP, the British oil company. Katrina Landis, the chief executive of BP Alternative Energy, said on Monday that the firm would finalise a commercial agreement on the project with Masdar within a few months, and would award a construction contract later this year to complete the plant by 2014.
The carbon gas will be moved by pipeline to a central facility at Habshan, but it will be vented into the atmosphere until the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) starts injecting the gas underground in commercial quantities at the Bu Hasa and Bab fields by 2015. Adnoc has been testing injection of the gas at pilot projects for several years. If Masdar were to deploy a cost-effective carbon capture system, it could give the company a valuable export for the future. Developing countries will continue to build new plants that burn coal and fossil fuels for decades, but carbon capture could offer a solution for them to reduce emissions, said Nick Otter, the chief executive of the Australia-based Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute.
"If somebody comes up with a good retrofit solution, they'll probably make a killing," he said. email@example.com