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Atmospheric Sciences & Global Change Division
Research Highlights

January 2009

Future CO2 Pipeline Not as Onerous as Some Think

Most large coal power plants in the United States are within 50 miles of existing sites that could store carbon dioxide.

Results: A gigantic and costly network of pipelines carrying carbon dioxide from power plants and other large industrial facilities to deep underground storage sites is not something we're about to see snaking throughout the country.

James Dooley, an internationally recognized climate expert, led a research team that found that the large-scale commercial deployment of carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) systems will not require the construction of an extensive national pipeline system such as the one used to move oil and natural gas throughout the United States.

In recent years, blue-ribbon commissions have called for studies to examine the financial burden a national CO2 national transportation network would present and just how much of a roadblock it would be for commercial CCS deployment.  Much of the concern expressed by these groups and others stems from the inappropriate use of analogies that seek to compare this yet-to-be built CO2 pipeline system to the nation's existing pipeline infrastructure used to move oil and natural gas around the nation.

A new analysis shows that transporting carbon dioxide from U.S. power plants to underground storage sites.
A new analysis shows that transporting carbon dioxide from U.S. power plants to underground storage sites would not require the construction of an extensive national piping system that rivals the global oil network.

Dooley, with the Joint Global Change Research Institute in College Park, Maryland, led a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory team that recently presented new research findings that described how a future national CO2 pipeline network would evolve over time.  The team stated that 95 percent of the largest stationary CO2 sources, primarily large coal power plants, are within 50 miles of existing storage sites.  Consequently, there is no need for long transcontinental CO2 pipelines such as those built to transport oil and natural gas.   Moreover, there are very few value-added uses for pipeline-quality CO2 and therefore there is no economic rationale for transporting CO2 over long distances.

Currently, there are 3,900 miles of CO2 pipeline infrastructure in the United States, built primarily in the 1980s and 1990s for CO2-driven enhanced oil recovery projects. The team estimated that the nation needs to build only between 11,000 and 23,000 additional miles of CO2 pipeline by 2050 in response to modeled climate policies designed to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at levels no more than twice pre-industrial concentrations.  Only 6,000 miles of this additional dedicate CO2 pipeline would need to be built before 2030. The additional dedicated CO2 pipeline miles pales in comparison with more than 270,000 miles of large inter- and intra-state natural gas pipeline that was built between 1950 and 2000.

"With, at most, a handful of power plants and industrial facilities adopting CCS each year for the next couple of decades, you're left with the sense that building out the additional CO2 pipelines is not going to be a major impediment for CCS," Dooley said.

The team presented its findings in November at the Ninth International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies in Washington, D.C.

Why it Matters:   CCS is an important aspect of the nation's portfolio of options to cost effectively mitigate global warming.  CCS systems can be used at power plants, refineries, and many other industrial facilities.  CCS works by capturing carbon dioxide and safely and securely storing it deep underground in carefully selected deep geologic formations. A comprehensive picture of how CCS will deploy and under what circumstances can help clarify the thinking of stakeholders, including policymakers, the private sector, members of the environmental community, and the general public.

Methods:  Dooley and his team compared a national CO2 pipeline network with existing pipeline networks used to transport oil and natural gas.  The scientists assessed the potential scale of the CO2 pipeline network in the United States that would be built in response to hypothetical global climate policies designed to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 and 550 parts per million.  Under the more stringent 450 ppm scenario, up to 23,000 miles of additional dedicated CO2 pipeline would need to be built between 2010 and 2050.  Under the 550 ppm scenario, 11,000 miles of additional dedicated pipeline would be added between 2010 and 2050. However, the buildout of this additional CO2 pipeline infrastructure would start gradually and accelerate as the climate policies became more stringent over time, as required for greenhouse gas stabilization. Therefore, in the period up to 2030, the growth in CO2 pipeline miles might only be a few hundred to less than a thousand miles per year.

What's Next: This study is part of a large, ongoing body of research to help better understand the role that CCS can play in the United States and around the world.

Research Team: James Dooley, Robert Dahowski, and Casie Davidson, PNNL.

Acknowledgments:  This study was conducted by PNNL researchers at the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership of PNNL and the University of Maryland at College Park, and in Richland, Wash.  The research was funded by the Global Energy Technology Strategy Program, which is funded by government and industry sponsors.  The work is part of PNNL's quest to transform the nation's ability to predict climate change and its impacts.

Reference:  Dooley JJ, RT Dahowski and CL Davidson. 2008. "Comparing Existing Pipeline Networks with the Potential Scale of Future U.S. CO2 Pipeline Networks."  In The Ninth International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies, Washington, D.C., November 16-20, 2008.


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