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What a carbon sequestration hub needs to succeed: 3 guidelines

The first large U.S. hub to stash and store CO2 is bound for Louisiana. A new report outlines its essential elements.

LA with graphics

Louisiana has been proposed as the state with the U.S.'s first carbon sequestration hub. Image via Shutterstock/New Design Illustrations.

Carbon capture has become top of mind for many of the most heavily emitting industries. But capturing the carbon from manufacturing processes is only half the project. Companies that retrofit their plants will need to find underground storage and transport the CO2 to that location. 

The company behind the carbon sequestration hub and the sectors planning to use it hope the hub will make the carbon capture process economically viable at scale. It would provide a centralized location near the necessary underground geological formations to consolidate and sequester carbon dioxide from many nearby industrial sources, eliminating the need for each emitting company to create its own pipelines and drill its own wells for carbon transport and storage. 

And while the investment in this type of project still has its detractors and uncertainties, the process of starting to build one has already started in the Gulf Coast. 

A report released in March from Louisiana State University (LSU) in collaboration with a company building the first such hub in the U.S., Gulf Coast Sequestration (GSC) outlines how these types of hubs could work, why Louisiana is the right fit and the new jobs it will create and the old oil and gas ones it will reinvigorate. It provides a template for what other hubs will need to succeed if this strategy becomes popular. There are 35 commercial capture facilities in international locations such as Australia, Japan, Canada and China.

The LSU report focuses on Gulf Coast Sequestration’s hub being built in Calcasieu Parish, in southwest Louisiana near the Texas border. It plans to be operational by 2025. Gulf Coast Sequestration could not be reached for comment but in a press release about the report CEO of GCS, Gray Stream, said, "At GCS, we are committed to thorough research, including conducting hundreds of models and simulation exercises to examine how our project will impact our environment and our community. This report is another aspect of that research, and we are pleased to have worked with LSU to analyze the project from an economic perspective. The GCS hub represents a forward-looking opportunity to help to grow and sustain American industry and jobs, while also ensuring environmental protection now and in the future."

The hub will support 1,149 jobs nationally during its construction and 375 jobs annually, decarbonizing about 150,000 million metric tons of CO2 in the surrounding fossil-fuel- and carbon-emitting-intensive sectors, according to the report. This is equivalent to taking almost 33,500 cars off the road for one year according the EPA emissions calculator. GCS plans to store over 10 million tons of CO2 per year over the next 30 years. 

So why is Louisiana the first state to have such a hub proposed within its boundaries?

It has the emissions

It is a powerful place to deploy carbon capture because the state and those surrounding it are populated by many heavy industries. These include producers of fertilizer, petrochemicals, power, natural gas, iron and steel. These heavy emitters are described as being in "hard-to-abate" sectors, which means they are unlikely to decarbonize through electrifying their core manufacturing and operations. 

About half of the U.S. oil refining capacity is in this corridor between New Orleans and Corpus Christi, Texas. According to the report, while the industrial sector accounts for 22 percent of emissions nationwide, in Louisiana it stands at 61 percent. And for a hub like this work, it will need access to a lot of emissions in a relatively localized area. 

"These companies are wanting to decarbonize," said Greg Upton, interim executive director of the LSU Center for Energy Studies and an author of the report. "They're looking at all these potential different strategies to do that. And carbon capture is one of those strategies." 

We have the sources of emissions and the [right] subsurface has to be there. You want the sequestration location to be in close proximity to where the carbon is going to be captured. Louisiana has both of those things.

According to Brian Snyder, an associate professor of environmental science in the Department of Environmental Science and a report co-author with Upton, these industries also have the right kind of emissions. The CO2 released in these productions are of high purity, with concentrations of 90 percent CO2, making the entire sequestration process easier.

Snyder expects the first movers retrofitting plants to capture carbon to be producers of hydrogen as well as ammonia for fertilizer, both of which have high-purity CO2 sources. 

It has the geology

Louisiana has also been a center of the oil and gas sector because of its specific underground geological formations, which are ideal both for pulling up oil from the ground and for injecting carbon back down into it.

"We have the confluence of a few things," said Upton. "We have the sources of emissions and the [right] subsurface has to be there. You want the sequestration location to be in close proximity to where the carbon is going to be captured. Louisiana has both of those things."

There is space in the sandstone, limestone and shale that can hold the CO2 gas. By injecting the gas into reservoirs at least half-mile deep, the pressure will reduce the possibility of CO2 leaking back into the atmosphere, according to the report. 

It has the expertise and the labor

In the 1970s and 1980s, Louisiana was the second biggest oil-producing state after Texas. It’s still responsible for 15 percent of the U.S. oil production, according to the report. The skills and expertise needed for carbon sequestration work are the same as those involved in extracting carbon from the ground. You still need to find the right drill site, drill the wells and lay the pipelines.  

"The same geophysicists that are looking at underground formations for oil and gas are going to be the same ones that are looking at the formations in terms of their characterization for CO2," said David E. Dismukes, professor emeritus at the Center for Energy studies at LSU and a third author of the report. 

When drilling the wells to sequester CO2, Gulf Coast Sequestration will hire an oilfield services firm. When hub or hub utilizers need to build pipelines to transport the carbon dioxide from the industrial facility to the sequestration hub, the workers will be the same ones that build oil and natural gas pipelines.

There are 51,000 workers in the refining, chemical manufacturing and liquefied natural gas export sectors within a 100-mile radius of the proposed facility, the report says. But employment in the oil and gas sector has declined significantly since 2014. So the workforce is there and ready. 

Access to industrial emissions, favorable geology and an available workforce have put Louisiana and the Gulf Coast ahead of other states as the first destination for a carbon capture sequestration hub. According to the authors of the report, decarbonizing these hard-to-abate industries at scale will mean more hubs such as this will need to be funded, built and used. And their locations will also need to be at the center of these factors, while also taking serious environmental risk into consideration. 

When and if the hub is built and operational by 2025, as planned, we will get the first hint of if this type of decarbonization will work. 

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