Battelle, Boise to study carbon capture at Wallula

By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer October 14, 2009 

Battelle and Boise Inc. are teaming up for the pulp and paper mill industry's first look at whether capturing and storing carbon dioxide from a mill is feasible.

If the project advances to installing a system at Boise's Wallula mill to capture carbon, there also would be a bonus for residents downwind of the mill. Before carbon could be captured, smelly sulfur-based compounds would need to be removed.

The project's initial step is a feasibility study paid for in part by the Department of Energy with economic stimulus money. It awarded $500,000 to the project as one of 12 large-scale industrial projects for carbon capture and storage funded with $21.6 million in an initial phase.

The $500,000 will pay for 80 percent of the pulp mill project with Battelle, Boise Inc. and Fluor, which has a carbon capture technology, covering the rest.

Battelle researchers already are working with Boise and the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership at the Wallula mill to study whether basalt formations could be used to capture and store, deep underground, the mill's carbon dioxide emissions. It's the predominant gas implicated in climate change.

The new project would rely on that research, which is planned to answer scientific questions and provide data for a potential commercial project at the mill.

The result of the industrial project could be a negative carbon footprint, said Pete McGrail, laboratory fellow at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and chief scientist for the project. Battelle operates the lab for the Department of Energy.

Boise is interested in capturing carbon dioxide emissions from a recovery boiler that emits about 495,000 tons of the gas a year. The plant uses black liquor, a byproduct of the process that transforms wood into pulp for making paper, as fuel rather than burning fossil fuels.

Black liquor is considered carbon neutral because carbon dioxide released during fuel use mimics the same natural cycle that occurs in the forest when trees decompose and release their carbon. Capturing the carbon would make the process carbon negative, potentially offsetting carbon release in other industries.

Paper mills already have major customers interested in their environmental practices. And Boise has made voluntary and legally binding agreements to reduce carbon emissions, said spokeswoman Karen Punch. However, installing a carbon capture and sequestration system would require a robust market for selling carbon credits to pay for the cost, she said.

"But we want to be stepping up now," she said.

The proposed system would rely on a carbon capture technology developed by Fluor that is used in other industries, including to scrub carbon dioxide from natural gas fumes so it can be marketed. This is the first time the technology would be used in the paper industry.

Fluor would determine if any modifications are needed to use it on flue gas at the mill, including potential side benefits of reducing emissions of sulfur compounds.

Carbon sequestration is rare in the United States, although the oil and gas industries do inject carbon dioxide into the ground to enhance oil and gas recovery, but without a goal of having the carbon dioxide remain underground.

The initial phase of the project using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money would cover only a feasibility study for a system at the Wallula mill. It would answer questions such as the cost and schedule for first capturing the carbon dioxide and then storing it underground.

The work would include developing a conceptual design for injecting about 720,000 tons a year of carbon dioxide into a deep flood basalt formation at Wallula. The basalt formations exist not only in the Mid-Columbia, but also elsewhere in the U.S. and other countries, such as India.

During the initial phase, which will last seven months, no construction, drilling or carbon dioxide injection would be done.

The Battelle team then would have to compete against the 12 projects that are receiving initial DOE funding for more than $100 million for the second phase of the Wallula project, which would develop a commercial-design study. A total of $1.4 billion is available under the economic stimulus program.

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