This waste incineration chimney in Oslo releases as much CO2 per year as 200,000 cars. But we don’t have to let this gas spew into our atmosphere and destroy our climate. Now we can store it safely, three kilometres below the North Sea.

CCS proJECT ”Northern Lights”

Equinor is participating in a revolutionary project to remove CO2 from the atmosphere

What do we do when renewable energy isn’t enough? 

”We won’t achieve our targets with renewable energy alone. It won’t happen fast enough, and it doesn’t catch all the emissions,” says Jannicke Gerner Bjerkås.

Jannicke Gerner Bjerkås is director of CCS in Fortum Oslo CHP, who operate the energy recycling centre in Oslo that receives household waste from Norway and Europe. The incineration of the refuse emits the equivalent of 200,000 cars’ emissions to the atmosphere, or about 14% of Oslo’s total emissions. 

”The flue gases from the incineration process are purified thoroughly for all harmful substances, and the only thing we don’t remove today, is CO2. So we want to do something about that,” she says.

Jannicke Gerner Bjerkås. CCS-direktør i Fortum Oslo Varme. 
Foto: VG Partnerstudio 

The Oslo CHP plant and Norcem Cement factory in Brevik south of Oslo will now participate in a groundbreaking collaboration with Equinor, Shell and Total to prevent large quantities of CO2 from reaching the atmosphere by storing it permanently under the seabed of the North Sea. The project is called ”Northern Lights” and is part of the Norwegian project for full-scale carbon capture and storage.

  • Video: See what happens to your household waste at the incineration plant

ENORMOUS VOLUMES: When your waste is incinerated, greenhouse gas emissions are sent straight up into the atmosphere. This crane at Klemetsrud lifts around 3-5 tonnes of waste and drops it into the furnaces. A whopping 1000 tonnes of trash are incinerated at the energy recovery plant every single day. PHOTO: VG PARTNERSTUDIO

Household waste generates heat, but produces CO2

“It’s about 900 degrees in here, so it’s nice and hot,” says Jannicke Gerner Bjerkås, pointing toward the red-hot furnace.

They burn about 1000 tonnes of household waste here every day here at the Klemetsrud energy recovery plant in Oslo. The refuse comes from households all over Norway and elsewhere in Europe, and from all kinds of businesses and construction sites.

This way, waste that cannot or should not be recycled is used to provide heat for the surrounding neighbourhood, as well as electricity—a process called Combined Heating and Power, or CHP for short.

Nevertheless, the incineration process itself emits around 400,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, which is about 14 percent of the capital city’s total CO2 emissions. That makes it the single largest emission in Oslo, corresponding to roughly 200,000 vehicles per year.

No easy task capturing CO2

”It’s technically quite complicated and expensive to remove CO2. But the potential is huge if you can pass on the learning from these projects. This can have a major impact on the climate challenge,” says Jannicke Gerner Bjerkås. She explains that they are already well into the testing:

”We have been operating a small pilot plant here at  Klemetsrud for about nine months, and the tests show that we are able to capture almost all the CO2, about 95%, of the CO2 in the flue gas,” she says.

”Simply put, the technology itself works by passing the flue gases through a liquid solution, which we call an amine solution, which binds the CO2. It then takes the CO2 into a tower where it is heated, which causes theamine solution to release the CO2 again, making it possible to capture the CO2, transport it away and store it permanently,” she says.

Norcem cement factory participating in Northern Lights

Norcem cement factory, Brevik
Photo: Norcem, with permission

“We aim to capture 400,000 tonnes of CO2 every year, equivalent to the emissions of over 200,000 cars”

Per Brevik, Norcem.

Per Brevik is Director of Sustainability and Alternative Fuels in Norcem. Photo: Norcem 

Norcem cement plant in Brevik will also participate in the Northern Lights CO2 capture project.

“The cement industry is a major emitter of CO2,” says Per Brevik, director of sustainability and alternative fuels in Norcem.

“We actually account for somewhere between 5 and 8% of global emissions. This is due to two things, firstly, it is partly the fuel that we use in the process, but it is primarily because of the process that we must carry out to make cement, when you split limestone into a lime powder and CO2. And so we emit half a ton of CO2 for every ton of product we make. It is inevitable, which is why we saw quite early on that carbon capture can work well at a cement plant.”

Both Fortum Oslo Varme and Norcem have received grants from the government to start these CCS projects. But how much effect will they have on the climate?

“We expect to capture 400,000 tonnes of CO2 every year, and 400,000 tonnes of CO2 equals over 200,000 cars and their emissions every single year,” says Brevik.


INFRASTRUCTURE: What full-scale CCS will look like. Illustration: Equinor

Professor: “We have to capture and store more CO2

“Electricity from renewable energy is a good thing but won’t be enough on its own. CCS will be an important part of the effort to achieve the UN climate targets.”

Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at the University of Edinburgh

Professor Stuart Haszeldine
Photo: University of Edinburgh

We must capture and store far more CO2
The increasing proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere is a major climate problem and leads to world temperature increase. Around the globe, solutions are therefore being developed to reduce emissions of CO2.

Most people have heard about wind turbines and solar panels, but without carbon capture and storage (CCS) it will be impossible to achieve our climate targets. And yet it’s a climate solution that very few people have heard about.

“Producing more electricity from renewable energy is a good thing, but that won’t be enough on its own,” says  Stuart Haszeldine, professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh.

“We will have to capture and store far more CO2 if we want to curb climate change in time. CCS will be an important part of the effort to achieve the UN climate targets,” he says. 

In simple terms, carbon capture and storage deals with removing CO2 from emission sources and storing it permanently underground, so that it is not released to the atmosphere.

Could subsea CO2 storage be dangerous?

One of the questions about carbon storage that is often asked of experts is whether it is dangerous to store CO2 in the subsurface. Many people wonder whether this could result in leaks or earthquakes.

Professor Haszeldine says that storing CO2 is a very safe way to reduce climate change.
“CO2 occurs naturally in large underground deposits in many places around the world, where it has been stored geologically for many millions of years. So we know that nature can store vast volumes of CO2 in a very safe way and for a very long time,” he says.

Haszeldine also says that we know quite a lot today about what kinds of geological formations are suitable for CO2 storage, and where they are located around the world. Haszeldine also notes that we have instruments that can measure movements in the earth’s crust that are 10,000 times fainter than anything that people can detect on land.

How much storage space is available in the subsurface? Enough to achieve the climate targets?

“Yes, definitely. Worldwide, there is enough room for more than 200 years of storage at current global emissions levels. The North Sea has been very extensively explored, and Norway can store 1000 years of its emissions right there,” he says. 

  • Video: Come with us out to Sleipner and see how CCS works

SLEIPNER: – CCS is very important. Energy sources that cannot be electrified have CO2 emissions that need to be addressed. That’s what we do here on Sleipner,” says Sverre Overå, project director in Equinor. There is plenty of room under the seabed to store 200 years’ worth of global CO2 emissions, at current levels.  Photo: VG Partnerstudio

Here’s how your CO2 emissions will be stored under the seabed 

Equinor has been storing CO2 here for more than 20 years
“In this pipe we are receiving natural gas with a high CO2 content,” says Sverre Overå, while the wind blows and the waves pound against the platform in the North Sea behind him. 

Overå is our project director, and he is standing by the handrail on Sleipner, where we have captured and stored more than 20 million tonnes of CO2 since 1996, equivalent to the annual emissions from 10 million cars.

“CO2 is removed from the natural gas and piped 1000 metres under the platform, all the way down to the Utsira formation where it is permanently stored in small pores in the rock,” says Overå.

Why do you think more people haven’t heard about carbon capture and storage (CCS)?

“Everyone has heard about solar panels and wind turbines, but CCS isn’t something that people can do by themselves. For example, you can’t have CCS on your car or your house. It will take a considerable industrial commitment, which is only relevant for the major emission sources. In many ways, you could say that this is the great unknown climate solution,” says Overå.

On Sleipner, carbon capture and storage started after CO2 tax was introduced by Norwegian authorities. This provided an economic incentive for storing CO2 instead of releasing it to the atmosphere. Norway’s tax on fossil energy is among the highest in the world, while large parts of the world continue to pollute “for free.”

Historic investment decision for “Northern Lights”

Developing the world’s first infrastructure for CO2 storage
Together with Shell and Total, Equinor now plans to develop a storage facility for CO2 on the Norwegian shelf. This will be the world’s first storage facility that can receive CO2 from various industrial sources. The project has been called “Northern Lights”.

“The idea is to capture CO2 from significant emission sources on land, transport it by ship to a terminal northwest of Bergen, transport it by pipeline out to the North Sea, and then inject it 3000 metres beneath the seabed, where it will be stored,” says Overå.

Across the globe, there aren’t many CCS projects currently underway. The few examples usually just involve capturing CO2 from a single plant.

“No other projects are looking into building an infrastructure like we are doing, with a flexible transport solution using ships that can reach ports all over Europe, and a receiving terminal with a storage facility. This is a solution for many industries wanting to reduce emissions, but who have no way of storing their CO2. This will truly be full-scale CCS,” says Overå enthusiastically.