The future terminal at Oygarden is to pump liquefied carbon dioxide into cavities deep under the seabed – Copyright AFP Alexiane LEROUGE
Alexian LEROUGE (STR)
On the coast of an island off the Norwegian coast of the North Sea, engineers are building a repository for unwanted greenhouse gases.
The future terminal is to pump tons of liquefied carbon dioxide trapped at the top of factory pipes across Europe into cavities deep under the seabed.
The project in the western municipality of Oygarden aims to prevent gas from escaping into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.
It is “the world’s first open-access transport and storage infrastructure, allowing any pollutant that captures its CO2 emissions to deliver that CO2 for safe processing, transportation, and then permanent storage,” project leader Sverre Overa told AFP.
As the planet struggles to meet its climate goals, some climate experts are looking at a technique called carbon capture and storage, or CCS, as a means to cut some of the emissions from fossil-fuel-based industries.
Norway is the largest producer of hydrocarbons in Western Europe, but it also boasts the best CO2 storage prospects on the continent, especially in its depleted oil fields in the North Sea.
The government funded 80 percent of the infrastructure with 1.7 billion euros ($1.7 billion) as part of a broader government plan to develop the technology.
A cement plant and a waste-to-energy plant in the Oslo area have to send their CO2 to the site.
But the most original feature of the project is on the commercial side: inviting foreign firms to send in their CO2 emissions to be buried in a safe place.
– Piping plans –
Using CCS to curb carbon pollution is not a new idea, but despite generous subsidies, the technology has never caught on, mainly because it is very expensive.
One of the world’s largest carbon capture plants at the Petra Nova coal-fired power plant in Texas was mothballed in 2020 due to its uneconomical nature.
According to the industry’s Global CCS Institute, there are only a couple of dozen active CCS projects in the world.
But the failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the massive influx of government subsidies have breathed new life into the technology.
Energy giants Equinor, TotalEnergies and Shell have formed a partnership dubbed Northern Lights, which will be the world’s first cross-border CO2 transport and storage service, scheduled to launch in 2024.
The pipeline will pump liquefied CO2 into geological pockets 2,600 meters below the ocean floor, and it is expected to stay there forever.
On Monday, Northern Lights partners announced the first cross-border commercial agreement.
From 2025, it must capture 800,000 tonnes of CO2 annually at a plant in the Netherlands owned by Norwegian fertilizer manufacturer Yara, and then ship it to Oygarden and store it there.
On Tuesday, two energy companies – Norwegian oil and gas giant Equinor and Germany’s Wintershall Dea – announced a project to bring carbon dioxide captured in Germany to an offshore storage facility in Norway.
If confirmed, the partnership between Equinor and Wintershall Dea could include the construction of a 900-kilometre (560-mile) pipeline linking a CO2 collection facility in northern Germany with storage facilities in Norway by 2032.
A similar project with Belgium is already under development.
– Not the “right decision” –
At the first stage, the Northern Lights scheme will be able to process 1.5 million tons of CO2 per year, and then from five to six million tons.
But this is only a small part of Europe’s annual carbon emissions.
The European Union emitted 3.7 billion tons of greenhouse gases in 2020, according to the European Environment Agency.
Many climate experts warn that carbon sequestration is not a panacea for the climate crisis.
Critics warn that CCS could extend fossil fuel production as the world tries to turn to clean and renewable energy.
Halvard Raavand of Greenpeace Norway said the campaign group has always opposed the practice.
“In the beginning it was very easy to oppose all kinds of CCS (carbon capture and storage), but now, due to the lack of measures to combat climate change, it is certainly more difficult to debate,” he said.
“This money should instead be spent on developing the right solution that we know (works) and that could cut energy bills for ordinary people, such as home insulation or solar panels.”