OYGARDEN: On the shores of an island off the Norwegian North Sea coast, engineers are building a graveyard for unwanted greenhouse gases.
The future terminal is to pump tonnes of liquefied carbon dioxide captured from the tops of factory chimneys across Europe into cavities deep under the seabed.
The project in the western municipality of Oygarden aims to prevent the gas from entering the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.
It is “the world’s first open-access transport and storage infrastructure, allowing any emitter who has captured its CO2 emissions to deliver this CO2 for handling, transport and then permanent storage in complete safety”, project manager Sverre Overa told AFP.
As the planet struggles to meet its climate goals, some climate experts see the technique, called carbon capture and storage, or CCS, as a way to partially reduce emissions from fossil fuel-based industries.
Norway is Western Europe’s biggest hydrocarbon producer, but it also has the best prospects for CO2 storage on the continent, especially in its depleted North Sea oilfields.
The government funded 80% of the infrastructure, putting 1.7 billion euros ($1.7 billion) on the table as part of a larger state plan to develop the technology.
A cement plant and a waste-to-energy plant in the Oslo region will send their CO2 to the site.
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But the most original particularity of the project is of a commercial nature: inviting foreign firms to send their CO2 pollution to be buried out of danger.
Using CCS to reduce carbon pollution is not a new idea, but despite generous subsidies, the technology has never taken off, mainly because it is so expensive.
One of the largest carbon capture facilities in the world, at the coal-fired Petra Nova plant in Texas, was mothballed in 2020 because it was uneconomical.
There are only a few dozen operational CCS projects worldwide, according to the industry-run Global CCS Institute.
But the failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement and a massive influx of government subsidies have breathed new life into the technology.
Energy giants Equinor, TotalEnergies and Shell have set up a partnership – dubbed Northern Lights – that will be the world’s first cross-border CO2 transport and storage service when it launches in 2024.
A pipeline will inject the liquefied CO2 into geological pockets 2,600 meters below the ocean floor, and the idea is that it will stay there for good.
On Monday, the Northern Lights partners announced a first cross-border trade deal.
From 2025, it is to ensure that 800,000 tonnes of CO2 are captured each year in a factory in the Netherlands belonging to Norwegian fertilizer manufacturer Yara, then shipped to Oygarden and stored there.
On Tuesday, two energy companies – Norwegian oil and gas giant Equinor and Germany’s Wintershall Dea – announced plans to ship carbon dioxide captured in Germany to Norway’s offshore storage site.
If confirmed, the partnership between Equinor and Wintershall Dea could involve the construction of a 900 kilometer (560 mile) pipeline connecting a CO2 collection facility in northern Germany to storage sites in Norway d 2032.
A similar project with Belgium is already in preparation.
In its first phase, the Northern Lights program will be able to treat 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year, then later between five and six million tonnes.
But this is only a tiny fraction of annual carbon emissions across Europe.
The European Union emitted 3.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2020, according to the European Environment Agency.
Many climate experts warn that carbon capture is not a silver bullet to the climate crisis.
Critics warn that CCS could prolong the extraction of fossil fuels as the world tries to shift to clean, renewable energy.
Halvard Raavand of Greenpeace Norway said the campaign group had always opposed the practice.
“At first it was very easy to argue against all kinds of CCS (carbon capture and storage) and now, due to the lack of climate action, it’s of course a harder debate to get into,” said he declared.
“This money should instead be spent on developing (an) appropriate solution that we know (works) that could reduce ordinary people’s electricity bills, such as home insulation or solar panels.”