Tamar Hallerman
GHG Monitor

Officials from Norway’s carbon capture test center at Mongstad are looking to stitch together an informal network of international technology testing centers in an effort to unite a slowly expanding field that has seen little coordination and knowledge-sharing to date. A handful of carbon capture technology testing centers have popped up in countries like the United States., Norway and Canada in recent years as part of efforts to speed the pace of carbon capture and storage commercialization. As carbon capture technology providers look to test their products on larger scales, many do not have the financing or capacity to run pilot-scale tests. Instead, some governments and utilities have begun investing in generic large-scale testing facilities to both allow providers the opportunity to test their technologies and gain access to data and insights from promising technologies. However, as test facilities have popped up in locations such as Alabama, Saskatchewan and Norway, none have aimed to coordinate operations information or knowledge-sharing in a meaningful way as of yet.

However, an official from Norway’s Test Center Mongstad, which had its grand opening earlier this spring, said that Gassnova, the Norwegian government’s RD&D arm that is operating the facility, is looking to build some sort of infrastructure for international cooperation going forward. “The idea is to form a network of centers that exchange information and maybe data as we go forward,” Gassnova CEO Bjørn-Erik Haugan told GHG Monitor. “All of these centers certainly have their own business plans, but I’m sure there will be quite a potential for sharing information as well as cooperation.” Haugan said that Gassnova is trying to coordinate an informal meeting of representatives from several international carbon capture test centers at the IEA’s Greenhouse Gas R&D Program’s biennial CCS conference later this year in Kyoto, Japan, but that little has been finalized to date. “There have been discussions with a number of technology centers, but there’s also a lot of ground to be covered yet in terms of structuring this,” he said. “We want things to really evolve from there so we can see what makes sense and benefits people.”

An International Problem

Heads of carbon capture test centers in Canada and the United States interviewed by GHG Monitor said they would be open to the idea of international collaboration on the issue. “While we have not had much time yet to go out and really establish those connections, we absolutely want to do that in the near future,” said Max Ball, manager of SaskPower’s recently-announced Carbon Capture Test Facility in southeastern Saskatchewan. “In some casual conversations we’re seeing interest, but we have not yet moved to the point where we have functioning collaboration.” SaskPower, Saskatchewan’s provincially-owned utility, decided to move forward on its own carbon capture test center after encountering information gaps surrounding technology performance while selecting a capture technology for its Boundary Dam CCS project several years ago, Ball said. “At that time we were unable to find a place where we could go and have the critical performance evaluations done, so we took the next step of moving to create a facility that would accomplish that for us,” he added.

Lynn Brickett, existing plants division director for the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, has been actively involved in the development of DOE’s National Carbon Capture Center (NCCC) in Alabama. She said that the potential for international cooperation on the issue of carbon capture is ripe because of the global nature of CO2 emissions. “CO2 is different than other pollutants that we’ve worked on because it is a global pollutant,” Brickett said. “From that perspective, NCCC does have the intent to generate technologies that can later be transferred to countries like India and China that use large amounts of coal. … there is going to have to be international collaboration here.”

IP Could be a Limiting Factor

While there is a potential for systematic knowledge sharing between several carbon capture test centers, officially acknowledged that there will almost undoubtedly be a significant chunk of learnings that can not be shared due to intellectual property limitation. “The principle on the part of the Norwegian government is to have as much openness as possible, but obviously vendor interests and competitive advantage is gained by proprietary information, so there will certainly be some limitations imposed by those clauses about what we can share,” Haugan said. Ball said that at the end of the day, the goal of SaskPower’s test facility is to find capture technologies that could later benefit future CCS work the utility may choose to pursue in the future. “Our view is that the best way to advance technologies is to create the correct commercial opportunities, and so we will not be sharing test results from our clients unless they ask us to,” Ball said. On the contrary, Brickett said that while NETL negotiates IP agreements with technology vendors on a case-by-case basis, DOE’s goal is to publically release as much data as possible.

Haugan, though, said he remains hopeful that even with IP concerns, much can still be shared on the international stage. “Half of this will be worked out as we go along, but I think there is always a potential for cooperation and trying to avoid duplication of efforts. These investments are very significant and given that the market could be far off, we should do our best to avoid duplication of plants and efforts,” he said.