Carbon capture and storage: Norway still top of the class

Statoil's Snøhvit gas plant in the Barents Sea. [Leonora (Ellie) Enking/Flickr]

Norway’s energy giant Statoil is developing a project to store imported industrial CO2 emissions under the sea. Companies in the UK would like to benefit from the technology. EURACTIV’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

Leaders of heavy industries have long dreamed of burying their carbon emissions underground, rather than changing their processes or installing more efficient machinery. They see this as a way of taking climate action without compromising on economic performance.

The idea has flourished over the last two decades: around 20 gas platforms, fertiliser factories and power stations diligently separate the carbon from their waste gasses and pump it into sealed geological structures; a technique known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).

A million tonnes per year

Norway has built itself a strong reputation in CCS. Motivated by high taxes on carbon emissions, the country’s state-owned energy company Statoil has pumped a million tonnes of carbon dioxide into rocks beneath the bed of the North Sea every year since 1996. Buoyed by this success, the company reproduced the process at its under-sea natural gas drilling station of Snøhvit in the Barents Sea.

The European Union was quickly smitten with this technique, which allows heavy industries to make rapid cuts to their carbon footprint.

In 2008, the Commission launched an ambitious Europe-wide programme to bring a dozen CCS sites into operation by 2015. The programme was due to be financed in part by the sale of carbon quotas in the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS). But the quota price crashed and political will evaporated, leaving the project high and dry.

Norway, however, continued its march of progress.

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Anglo-Norwegian agreement

The Scandinavian kingdom looked to sell its know-how abroad and London and Oslo signed a unique deal in 2010 that appeared to give CCS technology a bright future. Britain’s industries would invest in carbon capture technology and via a system of pipelines running along the sea bed, the CO2 would be injected into the ground.

Britain and Norway intended to use existing under-sea fossil fuel infrastructure to transport the CO2 directly from the coast to the storage wells. In a technical report, the Norwegian oil ministry estimated that such a system could cut 270 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by 2030 and more than 400 million tonnes by 2050 – the equivalent of France’s entire carbon footprint.

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One billion pounds

After signing the deal, Norway founded a public company to test carbon capture, transport and storage technologies. Over time, this company, Gassnova, was expected to take over the running of the CCS infrastructure in the North Sea. In 2012 the British government promised £1billion (€1.1bn) to support the development of UK CCS technology.

But three years later it withdrew the £1bn, pouring cold water on the whole exercise. Energy companies cancelled their plans to equip three sites with CCS technology and the deal with Norway was put on ice.

Carbon transport

Yet it takes more than that to discourage the Vikings. In recent weeks, Gassnova asked Statoil to study the details of a new CCS project. If all goes to plan, the Norwegian oil giant could bring its first under-sea CO2 storage hub online in 2022.

This time, the idea is to send a boat to collect the CO2 produced by a cement factory, a waste incineration site and a fertiliser factory on England’s south coast. The boat would transport the gas to an injection well near Statoil’s Troll gas drilling site. All this at an estimated cost of €1.4bn, plus €100m annual operating costs.

If it ever gets off the ground, this project will be a first: CO2 has never been collected by boat from several sites simultaneously before.

A British alternative?

This model for the future carbon chain has not gone unnoticed in other parts of the UK. Without public subsidies, six Tees Valley industrial sites are attempting to start their own CO2 collection scheme. Between them, they produce a total of 5 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses that they would like to transport and bury under the North Sea.

Unless the Statoil vessel proves a cheaper alternative.

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