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Near-Zero Emission Technology to Power Platforms

Norwegian researchers are exploring near-zero emission platform technology using fuel cells combined with carbon capture to help meet climate targets.

The Norwegian offshore industry has pledged to reduce 2.5 million tons of CO2 on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS) by 2030 compared to 2020 as part of its efforts to help the country meets its commitments under the Paris climate deal.


That’s a significant step forward given the size of its emissions. The NCS currently accounts for one third of all CO2 output. Gas turbines on offshore platforms make up 90% of that load.


But what if you could substitute fuel cells with similar technology like those already used in cars and hybrid vessels to power offshore platforms? And what if you furthermore captured the carbon and stored it under the seabed?



Fuel Cells on Platform


That is the premise behind the two projects by CMR Prototech in Bergen. The first is the Research Council of Norway’s Petromaks 2 project, with Norwegian oil company Statoil and Norske Shell, called Clean Highly Efficient Offshore Power (CHEOP). Researchers are developing a compact Solid Oxide Fuel Cell system to convert chemical energy directly into electricity using local natural gas resources from oil reservoirs as fuel. If successful, this would mark the first time fuel cells are used on offshore oil platforms.


“Fuel cells in cars are based on Proton Exchange Membranes using pure hydrogen as fuel,” said Ivar Wærnhus, CMR Prototech senior researcher. “At the platform, it runs on natural gas. Then you need another fuel cell technology.”


CMR Prototech’s fuel cell system works by replacing natural gas turbines that are normally used to power the platform. With fuel efficiencies of up to 60%, the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions could be reduced up to 50%. That would make it cheaper to operate given that there are no turbines and thus easier to maintain.


The fuel cell stack would be also less expensive than pulling electric cables from land to power the platforms. There has been a recent push to use hydropower from onshore to power oil and gas platforms, like at the Martin Linge field. However, it can be more cost-effective and environmentally friendly to produce the electricity on-site on the offshore platform, said Crina Ilea, CMR Prototech senior researcher.



“The idea started when Statoil was thinking about using electrical cables from land,” said Ilea. “This is why we started the project. These cables will transfer the electricity to the oil platforms produced on land by hydropower. But the electricity is redrawn from the EU market. The EU then has to cover the electricity shortfall, and not all of them are renewable sources.”


The Smeaheia area near the Troll field has been selected to store CO2 , part of Norway’s plans for a national full-scale CCS chain. Pictured is Troll A platform.Source: Øyvind Hagen/Statoil


Plus Carbon Capture


Another environmental aspect of the CHEOP project is a separate, but related project by Norwegian state enterprise Gassnova called CHEOP-CC, with Statoil and Norske Shell. Led by Ilea, CHEOP-CC will look at the possibility to capture up to 90% of all CO2 emissions using fuel cells.


Regular carbon capture technology entails a combination whereby the CO2 is separated from the nitrogen-rich exhaust. That requires a large carbon capture plant onshore. With fuel cells, oxygen membranes convert the fuel so that there is only an exhaust of CO2 and water. The captured CO2 can then be used to improve the oil recovery process and later stored into the reservoirs under the seabed.


“When you have the fuel cell installed on site, you can recover more or less all CO2,” said Wærnhus.


Norway is anxious to get a national program in place to capture CO2 emissions. The government has allocated NOK 360 million in its 2017 national budget toward creating of a full-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) chain by 2022 based on further detailed studies of three competing solutions: Norcem’s cement factory at Brevik, Yara’s fertilizer plant at Porsgrunn, and the Klemtsrud Waste Terminal in Oslo.


 “It’s not just Norway, but also global benefits if exported,” said Karl Eirik Schjøtt-Pedersen, Norwegian Oil and Gas Association director general, at DNV GL Technology Day this September in Høvik, Norway. “We believe there will be a need in the energy sector and industry. Ten to 15 years ago newspapers wrote solar power couldn’t compete without subsidies. Now it is viable. The same logic applies to CCS.”


As part of the CCS chain, the captured CO2 will be transported by ship to a North Sea aquifer. Statoil has picked a land-based solution to the Smeaheia area, which will be used to take 1 million tons of C02 via a new pipeline from a land terminal at or near Kollsnes. Smeaheia is located in the same geological formation as the Troll field. The NCS is estimated to hold one third of the CO2 storage capacity in Europe, followed by the UK, according to the environmental organization “Bellona”.


Subsea Fuel Cells


Both CMR Prototech’s projects CHEOP and CHEOP-CC are set to expire in 2017, but there is still promising work ahead. If the technology is proven successful on topsides, its fuel stack system could also be used subsea. Subsea factories, comprising many processing facilities at the wellheads thousands of meters below the seabed, would then neither need power from land cables nor floating platforms.


Subsea fuel cells have never been used before and pose a few challenges. The system needs to be watertight. There are also oxygen injection and maintenance issues being that it is deep below the seabed. But if it works, the technology could have many applications for the offshore industry.


“In principle all kinds of gas turbines can be replaced with fuel cells,” said Wærnhus. “Where you pay maintenance for energy, that is what we target, such as offshore platforms and ships.”

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