Industrial sectors such as cement and steelmaking will continue emitting CO2 even if they switch to 100% renewable energy, says Camilla Skriung, who calls on the Norwegian government to take action now – without waiting for EU funding – in order to get the first projects off the ground.
Camilla Skriung is an advisor at Zero Emission Resource Organisation (Zero), a Norwegian environmental organisation focusing on reducing greenhouse gases. She spoke to EURACTIV on the sidelines of a press trip financed by Gassnova, a Norwegian state enterprise supporting the development, demonstration and piloting of CCS technologies.
Most environmental NGOs are usually sceptical, if not outright opposed, to CCS but Zero seems to be a notable exception. Why is that?
We see carbon capture and storage as part of the solution to combat global warming, to make sure that we stay well below 2°C.
And the reason for that is that we can only go so far with renewables and energy efficiency. Because we would still need to abate emissions in industries such as cement, steel, aluminium, ethanol, etc. Also, we need to take care of our waste, which produces considerable amounts of carbon dioxide when burned for energy recovery, and those emissions worldwide are only growing.
All these sectors will continue to emit CO2, even if the industry’s use of renewables are deployed at 100%. The only way to deal with these emissions at the moment is CCS. So it’s an important part of the mix to address global warming.
And we don’t have time to wait for other technologies to emerge so it might be our last chance.
Why do you say CCS is the only way? Can’t renewables do the job?
Renewables are being used for heating and power in those industries, and efforts must continue to install renewable power in those factories at a larger scale than is the case today.
But the industrial process in itself – how you produce cement let’s say – will continue to emit some flue gas out of the pipe, regardless of the energy you use.
So it is the chemical process itself which produces CO2 emissions. And, at the moment, it is only possible to mitigate that with carbon capture and storage.
Does CCS still have a future in addressing emissions from coal power plants?
Yes, it does. But it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to continue burning coal longer than is absolutely necessary. So the first step is to stop building new coal and gas power plants so as to end our dependency on fossil fuels. In addition, more countries should do as Germany and phase out existing coal power plants.
Unfortunately, some countries will still claim dependency on coal for a decade or so – mainly China and India, which have huge amounts of existing coal. And they can apply CCS to mitigate emissions from those remaining plants while transitioning to clean energy.
Can’t those countries replace coal with renewables like we’re doing in Europe?
Well, they do. But they still have huge amounts of installed coal capacity. And in the transition away from coal and gas, CCS can play a role to mitigate emissions from those remaining coal power plants before they are definitely shut down.
In Europe, the focus now is on industry, not coal. Because if we can demonstrate that CCS is possible in industry, where it is really needed, it can become less costly in the future and used eventually in other areas as well.
The rise of cheap renewables has undermined the business case for CCS in the coal power sector. Could the same happen again with CCS use in industry, for example, if green hydrogen becomes cheaper?
Even in a climate-friendly future, we will still need products coming from industry.
So it’s a different story: we will continue to need steel for solar panels for example, we will continue to need cement for our buildings, for our roads, etc. And I don’t see any other means of mitigating those emissions at this point.
For steel production, there is a pilot plant in Sweden which is planning to use green hydrogen coming from renewable electricity as the energy source. Could such projects undermine the business case for CCS in steelmaking, if they become available on a bigger scale?
These kinds of projects are really useful. But they only deal with the power coming to the factory. There will still be CO2 emissions from flue gas resulting from the steelmaking process itself. And to address that, there is no other solution than CCS at the moment.
CCS is still expensive and not commercially viable. So what should governments do? Subsidise it?
They should subsidise the first movers, to make sure the first projects get off the ground. Building this kind of infrastructure is a state responsibility, which can be financed from the state budget or from a tax for example. But some kind of subsidy will definitely be needed for the first projects.
Once the first projects are up and running, there should be some other kind of financial models to make sure that CCS is profitable and worthwhile doing for the industry in the long term. One possibility is to issue some certificates for CCS. There could be a small carbon tax on industrial emitters that would go into a fund which would pay them back for each tonne of CO2 actually stored.
So it would be a circular model, a kind of deposit system: those who make money on carbon uptake – the oil and gas industry for example – would pay into that fund that would only go to CCS projects. In Norway for instance, Equinor is thinking of earning money by charging industries for storing the CO2 in depleted oil and gas fields.
There are many different ways to finance this but we shouldn’t delay any further and start doing it now because emissions continue to grow and we don’t have time to wait before catastrophic climate change starts happening.
Norway has got the biggest sovereign fund in the world. And yet, they’re still asking financial participation from the European Union. Why is that? If they believe there is a business case for CCS, why don’t they just do it?
There is a huge worry over here that Norway will pay for the transport and storage infrastructure (the Northern Lights project) but that no one will follow – whether governments or industry. And that’s the main worry – that others around Europe won’t use the infrastructure.
But I would say that is to turn things around: the very building of an infrastructure for CCS will spark future CO2 capture projects. Having a storage site ready will make all the difference in the world.
There is also a big political debate here in Norway about whether the state budget should be used to finance CCS, in cases where it competes with schools, hospitals or other things.
But we believe Norway should go forward with the Northern Light project and not ask the European Union for money. They should just do it. If we get the investment decision in 2020, the project should be completed or at least on its way by 2022-23.