How it Works: Carbon-Neutral Energy Cycle

For the first time in history, numerous technologies and approaches are working together to enable a carbon-neutral energy cycle that eliminates net CO2 emissions across both production and combustion. Here’s how it works.

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The Conventional Energy Cycle

Oil and gas is contained within large underground zones of porous rock known as reservoirs—trapped within tiny pores in the rock that are invisible to the naked eye. When a well is drilled into these reservoirs, the natural pressure under which these fluids live drives the hydrocarbons to the surface where they are controlled, processed, separated into product streams and transported for sale or further refinement and processing. At the refinery crude oil may be turned into, for example, jet fuel. This fuel would be transported to a distribution terminal and then shipped to an airplane for use. The airplane’s engine then burns the fuel, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.

The production of hydrocarbons is the focus of the oil and gas business. But, as you can imagine, the CO2 emissions occurring throughout this process of production and consumption are considerable. Around half of global CO2 emissions are from oil and gas.

But this is an exciting time not just for carbon management but also for energy and industrial operations. In recent years, a number of technologies have matured to the point in which, working in conjunction, they can now create a 100 percent carbon-neutral energy cycle.

The Carbon Neutral Energy Cycle

In nature, CO2 is captured and stored within the soil, rocks and trees. It is then released into the air after natural processes such as burning or respiration. In this way, the planet regulates its atmospheric CO2 levels. Climate change is a result of this system being overwhelmed by anthropogenic CO2. But now four key technologies, used in an integrated fashion, enable us to replicate this natural cycle to bring carbon neutrality to energy and industrial activity worldwide. These are:

  • Direct Air Capture (DAC)
  • Carbon Neutral Production (CNP)
  • Carbon Sequestration
  • Industrial Capture

In this system, direct air capture technology removes atmospheric CO2 directly from the air, enabling the ability to address both legacy CO2 as well as emissions that have been traditionally tough to capture—such as those from airplanes and cargo ships. Now that CO2 has been removed from the air, it’s injected more than a mile belowground into an oil and gas reservoir. Through a type of Carbon Neutral Production (CNP), the CO2 mixes with the oil and gas to displace it and lower its viscosity and density—allowing oil and gas to work its way through the rock and to the well more easily for production.

Using geologic sequestration, the CO2 used in this process remains trapped permanently underground through a variety of naturally occurring processes. This means basically having the ability to put the carbon back where it came from. Depending on the specific well dynamics and how much CO2 is sequestered in this process, EOR CO2 injection cycles create either carbon-negative or carbon-neutral oil.

This carbon neutral oil is then sent to a refinery where it’s turned into any number of products, including carbon-neutral jet fuel. Industrial carbon capture technology in place at the refinery can further contain CO2 from the refining process, making it available for transport, usage or sequestration. Airlines then buy and burn this carbon-neutral oil, and can offset operations further through DAC. Then the cycle starts all over again.

Complicated but Concrete

This process has a lot of moving pieces that haven’t yet all been commercially deployed together at large scale. But we believe that time is coming. And the ability to put them all together for carbon-neutral energy production and consumption is a huge milestone. None of these technologies are perfect, and Oxy Low Carbon Ventures certainly doesn’t have all of the answers. But these aren’t visions or theories—these technologies are real. And they’re the closest mankind has ever been to a workable way to create and use energy in a way that balances industry with a stable climate and the environment as a whole.

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