TriGen Energy BV: Carbon capture solutions for the oil industry

Pieter Kapteijn and Gabriël de Scheemaker, CEO and CFO of TriGen Energy BV, discuss the company’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture utilisation (CCUS) technology, and how they contribute to a net zero fossil fuel industry.

TriGen Energy BV, a company comprised of many experienced experts, is seeking to be the first carbon neutral oil and gas producer. To achieve this, they are utilising their own carbon capture and storage, and carbon capture utilisation solutions, designed to clean the process of energy production.

With COP28 reaffirming the need to step away from fossil fuels and decarbonise energy production to keep global warming under 2°C, and indeed, start to reduce that number, TriGen is offering solutions to decarbonise energy production.

They also offer alternative uses for the produced emissions, which can be used in everything from further energy production to agriculture. We spoke to the CEO and CFO of the company, Pieter Kapteijn and Gabriël de Scheemaker, to find out more about these technologies.

How do TriGen’s carbon capture and storage and carbon capture utilisation technologies work?

The TriGen plant burns hydrocarbons with pure oxygen (oxy-fuel burner). You can think of an oxy-fuel burner as a static rocket engine, running continuously. The beauty of the combustor is that it efficiently converts all the C and H molecules in the fuel to CO2 and H2O, which is pure water. The CO2 is easily separated from the water and is immediately suitable for injection and storage in a reservoir.

This means combustion and CO2 capture are done in one simple step. The heat and pressure generated in this process are converted directly, using an expansion turbine, or indirectly, using a steam cycle, into mechanical energy and then into electrical power. Because the CO2 from the combustion is sequestered, the power is produced with zero emissions.

For oxy-fuel combustion, you need oxygen, which has to be produced using Air Separation Units, which take energy. This means that if the plant has a 45% efficiency, you are left with some 35-37% efficiency after subtracting the energy consumed by the ASU. But other capture technologies also consume a lot of energy.

If you are not interested in the capture and storage of CO2, conventional power plant cycles are best. Still, if you look at total system efficiencies, including carbon capture and storage, oxy-fuel makes a lot of sense in many oil & gas applications. On top of that, oxy-fuel is the only power cycle that produces rather than consumes water. For many customers in water-starved regions, this is a significant advantage.

How do they compare to other CCS and CCU technologies?

When TriGen Energy started, we did a comprehensive technical review of all CCS/CCUS technologies available, also considering future development potential. That comparison showed us that oxy-fuel was uniquely suited to oil and gas applications. Gas produced from oil and gas fields worldwide has large variations in quality and composition, often containing CO2, nitrogen, H2S, and other impurities. The compositions may also vary over the life of the field. Some poor-quality gas fields are effectively stranded for that reason.

Oxy-fuel has excellent tolerance for what we call ‘bad gas,’ which is poor-quality gas that conventional carbon capture technologies cannot handle. The combustors have been tested with as much as 70-80% CO2 in the feed and still work efficiently. Our analysis clearly showed that of the three main flavours of carbon capture technology (pre-combustion, post-combustion and oxy-fuel), oxy-fuel came out on top.

Having an ASU often brings additional value: the nitrogen from the ASU may be used for pressure maintenance of oil/gas fields. In some applications, we can sell the Argon, too. The key is not to focus on the CC technologies in isolation but to look at the whole value chain of which the plant is part and then do the economics.

Although TriGen is technology agnostic when we look at a project’s technical design, we have decided that oxy-fuel is the right starter technology to help the oil industry decarbonise.

How much of an impact will the Oxyfuel technology have?

Very significant. After COP28, the energy landscape will be undergoing a seismic shift. The oil industry must pivot towards the diminished use of fossil fuels. I read recently that CCUS capacity must be scaled up by two orders of magnitude, from 60 to 6000 projects globally, to hit the five Gt/yr of CO2 stored in 2050.

The oil industry’s contribution is critical to us having any chance to keep global warming below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C. Another estimate I saw was that CCUS projects will require a yearly investment of $500bn a year by 2050. Clearly, there is a market for our solutions!

We see increasing interest in the solutions we offer coming from companies that realise they must make the transition and make it profitable if they want to survive and thrive. What better way to transition your existing asset base to producing clean power than by capturing the CO2 at source?

We are not even talking about the other business models that the TriGen solution enables and the options it opens to convert clean power into other energy vectors like hydrogen, methanol, and ammonia.

How does TriGen justify the higher cost of its Oxyfuel process, and what compensating values does it bring?

Let’s look at the ‘higher cost’ assumption first. Firstly, TriGen are confident that the cost of TriGen plants will decrease significantly over the next decade. This is through simple scaling and efficiency improvement. We estimate that within ten years, a TriGen power plant could cost less than $3500/kW installed. It is marginally more expensive than a CCGT with carbon capture, but remember, the CCGT plant produces only power from relatively clean fuel gas.

Secondly, the exceptionally high oxy-combustion temperatures of up to 2000°C allow for more efficient thermo-dynamic cycles, and ultimately, the plant efficiencies will top 50%. That includes the ASU power consumption.

Lastly, our studies have shown that the TriGen plant produces additional value in many oilfield applications, which comes from, for example, water, nitrogen, argon, and heat-integration with oilfield processes. While it is somewhat higher in cost, it yields much higher business value and generally better project economics.

We carried out 18 studies on oil and gas assets worldwide, and the trend was evident: with very few exceptions, the economics of a TriGen oxy-fuel-based CCUS solution at the integrated system level was superior to solutions based on other CCUS technologies.

How does this process help oil companies reduce CO2 emissions through carbon capture and storage?

The challenge for oil companies is to reduce their scope-1, -2, and -3 emissions to zero or maybe even become negative by importing other industries’ CO2 emissions. Scope-3 emissions reduction is the most difficult to achieve as it also requires complex reconciliation and verification across the energy value chain, presenting a considerable challenge.

If you produce oil or gas, you generally create the space in producing reservoirs to take injected CO2 volumes. Theoretically, if you burn all the oil and gas from a reservoir, the CO2 produced could be stored in those same reservoirs. Therefore, the ideal solution would be to convert all the produced hydrocarbons into power at the assets, inject and store the produced CO2, and only export and sell clean power. As a bonus, you would also create 10-15% extra space in the reservoir to store other people’s CO2. This scenario could well lead to a new kind of oil industry. One that monetises its reserves through the sale of clean power. TriGen’s vision for the oil industry, “clean power from fossil fuels,” reflects our conviction that this will be how the industry ultimately goes.

Ultimately, every industry should strive to minimise its environmental footprint, but the oil industry faces an additional challenge. It currently produces something like 85% of all the energy humanity needs, and it is expected to continue to produce that energy reliably and affordably through the energy transition. By 2050, even in the most extreme scenarios, the oil industry will have to meet at least 30% of the global energy needs. TriGen offers an attractive solution to the industry that allows the transition to net zero to be profitable and responsible. Our solution builds on the assets and capabilities the industry has today.

With our solution the oil industry can become part of the solution rather than remain part of the problem.

Please note, this article will also appear in the seventeenth edition of our quarterly publication.

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