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Online Feature: Digitalization will help carbon capture and sequestration industry to be more efficient, safe, and profitable

AUTHORS:  Rajesh Sharma and Alan Acquatella, Schneider Electric

Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) is a term that refers to a group of technologies that can help mitigate climate change by lowering CO2 emissions. While zero-carbon alternative solutions evolve, CCUS provides a near-term pathway to rapidly reduce the impacts of existing, difficult-to-decarbonize, emissions-intensive infrastructure and processes. The goal of CCUS is to capture CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels before it is discharged into the atmosphere. The dilemma then becomes what to do with the CO2 that has been captured. The majority of current CCUS plans call for injecting CO2 deep below. This results in a “closed loop,” in which carbon is removed from the Earth as fossil fuels and then returned as CO2.

In many cases, the CO2 must be transported, usually by pipeline, for permanent and verifiable sequestration. The use cases for CCUS infrastructure are trending up. According to a Princeton University report published in December 2020 and funded in part by the oil industry, a 65,000-mile system will be operational by 2050, up from the existing 5,000 miles of CO2 pipes in the United States. And according to the Global CCS Institute, 24 CO2 capture and injection plants were operating worldwide in 2020, with 12 in the United States.

Caution when transporting CO2 through pipelines

CO2 is highly corrosive, especially when contaminated with water, and CO2 reacts differently in a pipeline than natural gas, making a leak more harmful, necessitating robust pipeline designs and robust monitoring.

The carbon is compressed into a liquid condition and then pushed through pipelines at high pressure to transport it. Furthermore, the tubing is significantly larger in diameter than ordinary gas pipes, necessitating compressors throughout the system to keep the CO2 in a liquid form.

While CO2 transport accidents are uncommon, there is still the possibility of a deadly leak. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if CO2 leaks from a pipeline, a concentration in the ambient air of between 7% and 10% might constitute an immediate hazard to human life.

How digital technology can aid with efficient carbon capture

For operational efficiency, safety, and profitability, digital technologies will be critical in CCUS operations, such as planning, process automation, predictive maintenance, flow surveillance (anomaly detection), and control systems. To support these goals, for example, digital twin representation of installations and the associated power system and grid can accurately monitor the liquified CO2 flow in pipelines using exception-based surveillance (e.g., leak detection, pressure/temperature tracking). It is an energy-efficient solution that uses variable speed drives and multi-station optimization using a model-based software solution.

Additionally, you can use graphical services to visualize operational, financial, and environmental KPIs and historical data linked to CCUS operations.

This is a predictable cloud system architecture. An IT/OT interface that integrates various data sources (including sensor data) and facilitates machine learning and AI-based descriptive and predictive analysis is essential to the operation of CCUS.

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