Norway's latest CCS revival attempt meets lukewarm EU response
The European Commission has given only cautious backing to a project led by Norway that would see carbon dioxide emissions captured at source from industrial installations and shipped offshore to depleting oil and gas fields where they would be buried more than 1,000 metres underground.
It was supposed to be Norwayâs âmoon landingâ moment. In 2007, the oil-rich Scandinavian country was at the forefront of efforts to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, building on years of experience gained at its Sleipner gas field where CO2 has been stored safely since 1996.
The plan involved the construction of a testing facility, with the aim of rolling out capture and storage technology on a commercial scale seven years down the line.
More than ten years later, the Mongstad technology centre near Bergen is the only tangible remainder of the countryâs failed â moon landingâ attempt.
Now, Norway wants to give CCS a new start, hoping that an updated concept focused on developing the transport and storage infrastructure will make the business case stronger and â" crucially â" attract interest from investors around Europe.
One of the main novelties is that the CO2 would be transported to the storage location by boat instead of pipeline. This would allow more industrial facilities to dock in and use the storage infrastructure.
âYou can just as well take CO2 from the UK shore, Holland, Germany or France and ship it to our CO2 storage facility in the North Sea,â said Trude Sundset, the CEO of Gassnova, a state-owned Norwegian company that pilots the project.
âThis is an infrastructure project,â Sundset told a group of journalists invited to Norway to visit the facilities in early October. âThe good part,â she ad ded, âis that the Norwegian government has said to industry that it would take particular responsibility for the transportation and storage part.â
In the demonstration phase, the CO2 captured at a cement plant and a waste incineration facility in Norway would be stored temporarily on site in big containers before it is shipped off the Norwegian coast for injection deep beneath the seabed.
Cement producers are not experts at geological storage of CO2, Sundset pointed out. But, with a bit of assistance, they could easily install a carbon capture unit and store the CO2 temporarily before it is collected by boat â" a bit like a garbage truck does for household waste.
Crucially, more industrial sites around Europe could join at a later stage. âThis is really important for us,â Sundset said. âWe donât think we can develop this just for Norway. We need to get other industries, other countries to participate also in this.â
Norwegian activist: CCS is the only way to deal with CO2 from cement, steel
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 â" without waiting for EU funding â" in order to get the first projects off the ground.
But if the concept sounds more commercially appealing than previous attempts, cost remains a big issue.
âCCS is still expensive,â said Bjorn Haugstad, general director at the Norwegian ministry for petroleum, energy and climate. And while the project is on track, âthere are potential show-stoppers,â he told a Brussels event organised on 26 September by the Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP), a pro-CCS advisory group.
The full-scale demonstration project in Norway is evaluated at â¬1.6 billion over five years. And even though Oslo sees carbon capture as a key future technology, âit is probably too expensive for Norway to finance a full-chain CCS project without participation from others,â Haugstad pointed out, adding the Norwegian prime minister had raised the issue in talks with the European Commission last June.
European Commission cautious
The Commission has adopted a rather cautious stance on CCS, however. There are no plans at the moment to set aside specific funding for the technology, said Christian Holzleitner, a senior official at the Commissionâs environment directorate who spoke at the Brussels event.
There are indeed 450 million carbon allowances that will be made available as of 2020 under the EUâs Emissions Trading Scheme to finance low-carbon technologies. At the current price of â¬20-22 per tonne of CO2, this could represent âa pot of more than â¬10 billion for the next decade,â he pointed out.
But carbon capture is seen in Brussels as part of a broader mix of technologies that could help the EU reach carbon neutrality by mid-century, said Holzleitner, who is involved in drafting an update to the Commissionâs 2050 low-carbon economy roadmap, expected to be published on 28 November.
âDonât expect our communication to say this is the way we should go,â Holzleitner warned, dampening expectations about specific backing for CCS under the upcoming strategy. âWe want very much to start a discussion,â he explained, saying the Commission will seek input from all interested parties before adopting its final strategy towards end 2019-early 2020.
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The Commissionâs cautious stance on CCS is understandable. Back in 2009, the EU executive put â¬1 billion on the table to finance six CCS demonstration projects. The objective, agreed by EU leaders in 2007, was to have up to twelve projects up and running by 2015.
In the end, none of them got off the ground, mainly due to the high costs involved.
EU agrees billions to fund renewables, CCS
EU member states this week (2 February) agreed how to allocate billions worth of EU money from the bloc's emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) to support renewable energies and emerging technology to capture carbon dioxide and store it underground.
This time, the EU executive doesnât want to get its fingers burned. âWe want to better select projects,â Holzleitner explained, saying the Commission will provide funding for low-carbon technology projects that can âdemonstrate a business caseâ and have greater chances of âsurviving on their ownâ after the funding stops.
âSo we are very much looking for mature projects, for a business case â" not only technology demonstration but also a business model,â he said.
However, the EUâs lengthy decision-making processes may prove too slow for Norway, according to Haugstad, who sees âa financing gap in the EUâs support mechanismsâ. The innovation fund appended to the ETS will only start accepting calls for proposals in late 2020.
This means EU money could start flowing in 2022 at the earliest, he pointed out, saying this would be too late for the Norwegian project, which aims to be fully up and running by that date.
âEU funds are particularly important in that regard given the strong European dimension of this project,â Haugstad added, saying co-funding would be âa cle ar indicator of European interest and commitmentâ.
Little time left
Time indeed is of the essence. On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report warning that time was running short to keep global warming below 1.5Â°C. It listed âcarbon capture options in the industry sectorâ and fossil fuel sector among the carbon removal options available to stay on track.
âThere is no doubt that CCS is needed to meet the Paris targets,â said Anders Bjartnes, editor at the Norwegian Climate Foundation, a non-profit organisation. âWe have to prepare for a future with negative emissions and CCS will be a part of that equation,â he told a group of journalists in Oslo on 4 October.
But Norway has its reservations too. The countryâs failed âmoon landingâ attempt is still vivid in peopleâs memories and the Norwegian authorities â" the Parliament and parts of the government â" is no longer prepared to give CCS a blank cheque. Public opinion has also started questioning whether the countryâs budget would not be better invested in things like schools or hospitals.
According to Bjartnes, the âreal oppositionâ to CCS is âthe bureaucracy in the ministry of financeâ which keeps a close eye on the countryâs massive wealth, earned from oil and gas exploitation.
âThe big question is: will these projects be realised, or will you get news from Oslo in a couple of yearsâ time telling you that the Norwegian government has cancelled their ambitious CCS plans?â
âListen carefully to what they say,â Bjartnes cautioned. âTheyâre asking the EU for money. And thatâs like keeping a backdoor open so they can escape in case things go wrong,â he told the journalists.
Scientists inject new sense of urgency into CCS
Europe â" and the w arming planet â" has lost precious time in developing carbon capture and storage (CCS), a fledgling technology seen as crucial to decarbonise heavy industry, warned scientists in a new report presented in Brussels last week.
Editorâs note: This article was produced partly thanks to a press trip financed by Gassnova, a Norwegian state enterprise supporting the development, demonstration and piloting of CCS technologies.Source: Google News Norway | Netizen 24 Norway