A delegation from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oslo (UiO) recently came back from China with good news: The leading Chinese research groups in the field of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) are going to collaborate with the UiO institute and the Norwegian Technology Centre Mongstad (TCM), which is the world's largest facility for testing and developing CO2 capture technologies. The motivation is that the Norwegian researchers have an expertise the Chinese are missing themselves.
"China is now the world's most progressive nation when it comes to research on CCS, and they also have the most comprehensive plans for implementation”, says Professor Claus Jørgen Nielsen at the Department of Chemistry.
"They have in fact decided that China is going to be the first nation in the world to implement CCS on a large scale. The reason is of course that CCS is one of the technologies that have the potential to save the global climate”, Nielsen adds. This looks like good news, because the Chinese authorities have a reputation for going through with their decisions.
"But the capturing part of the technology comes with a problem that has not been much studied in China, and certainly not in the United States, but where Norway is in the forefront. The problem is that the process for capturing carbon can give rise to carcinogenic chemicals in the environment. This is a problem that we Norwegians can help the Chinese to avoid, and at the same time we are making an important contribution towards reducing global climate problems, "adds Nielsen.
China aims to be a leader in research
The Norwegian delegation to China consisted of Senior Executive Officer Kari Kveseth and researcher Liang Zhu from the Amine Research and Monitoring project (ARM), in addition to Nielsen.
“China is today the world’s largest investor in research and development (R&D) overall. The USA remains in the lead of R&D investments per capita, but China is in second place and is still growing. China has developed a remarkable policy with leaders who are convinced that research is going to lead to a renewed nation, and they are thus on the road to becoming the world's leading R&D nation”, comments Kari Kveseth.
“In other words: It is clearly very interesting for Norwegian researchers to cooperate with the leading Chinese research communities. We are therefore pleased to see that the Chinese regards cooperation with Norwegian researchers to be important, based on the fact that we have advanced R&D institutions with specialised expertise and an excellent international standing when it comes to environmental research", comments Professor Rolf David Vogt. He is one of the pioneers in the Norwegian-Chinese research collaboration.
"The basis for the perception of Norway as an environmentally minded nation was perhaps laid as early as in the 1980’s with the Brundtland Commission. It is also a factor that Norwegian research communities, through the Acid rain research, have documented their ability to work interdisciplinary”, he adds.
The problem that should be avoided
Carbon Capture and Storage is, as the name implies, a set of technologies that falls into two parts: First, carbon in the form of CO2 gas must be captured or separated from the exhaust flue gases produced by combustion in, for example, fossil fuelled power stations. After separation, the gas must be stored in a safe and permanent manner, so that it does not escape into the atmosphere.
The Chinese already have a number of available technologies when it comes to capturing carbon, and they are expecting to find efficient solutions for storage. The Norwegian cooperation is therefore all about reducing the environmental impact of the technology for capture.
"The common way to capture CO2 from gases makes use of an old technology where amines, which are chemical bases, capture the acidic CO2 gas. When used to capture CO2 from exhaust in a chimney, some of the amines are emitted into the air”, explains Vogt.
Short-lived and carcinogenic byproducts
So far, so good – but in 2008, Professor Claus Jørgen Nielsen and colleagues pointed out that amines emitted to air from CO2 capture plants can be broken down into nitroamines and nitrosamines. The nitrosamines are known for being carcinogenic but short-lived, so they should not be released into the air in densely populated areas. The nitramines are more stable, and little is known about their effects on human health – but there is a risk that they are as bad as the nitrosamines.
The persistence of the nitramines makes it necessary to map their presence in the environment around CCS plants: Where do they end up? Are they stored in soils, so that they can affect the bacterial flora – or are they washed out so that they may be bio-accumulated in the aquatic food chain? Moreover, are there other important sources for nitramines and nitrosamines in the environment? The Norwegian-based researchers agree that these questions must be answered before choosing the best technology for capturing CO2.
“We have in cooperation with TCM developed a unique competence in this field of science at the Department of Chemistry. If we are to reach the IPCC target of only 2 ºC global warming the CCS technology must account for roughly 30 % of the solution. Then we are going to need qualified researchers, who are going to be educated both in Norway and China in a joint program”, says Nielsen. The Sino-Norwegian cooperation is already underway. An application for funding from the European Research Fellowship Programme Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions is therefore being prepared.
Cooperation for almost 30 years
Researchers at the Department of Chemistry in Oslo have collaborated with Chinese environmental research institutions for almost 30 years, with projects dealing with mainly acid rain, mercury and water quality. The collaboration ground to a halt when the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. By the end of 2016, relations between China and Norway were normalized after Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende's visit to China, and the Norwegian researchers were eager to start cooperating again.
A new reality
The largest Chinese partners in the renewed cooperation are the Air Pollution Control Division at Tsinghua University; Huaneng Power International, which is China's largest energy producer; and the Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics (IET ) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Tsinghua holds a leading role in research on air pollution, especially in Beijing and northern China. During the summer of 2017, their instrument park will be supplemented with measuring instruments from the Department of Chemistry in Oslo. Dr. Liang Zhu will contribute to this in Beijing.
Kari Kveseth points out that the two largest universities in China, Tsinghua University and Peking University, are highly ranked internationally and can choose students from the top shelf.
“International ratings also indicate that universities such as Harvard and Oxford will be bypassed by the best Chinese universities in five to ten years, because the Chinese are innovating in key fields such as materials, biology, health and large-scale efforts. So it goes without saying that China is an interesting partner”, she adds.
Following the Norwegian delegation’s visit to China, the Department of Chemistry arranged a conference in Oslo on CCS with a total of 30 participants. Of these, 10 came from central Chinese institutions. Norway was represented by the Norwegian state enterprise for carbon capture and storage Gassnova, TCM, the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) and the University of Oslo.
The main theme of the conference was the CCS development in China and Norway, technological and environmental R&D, as well as opportunities for collaboration in both research and testing / qualification of selected technology solutions for CCS. This conference will be followed up by new applications for funding with clear and integrated cooperation between China and Norway.