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Could a pipeline from Europe to Norway help solve European industry’s climate problem?

In the rocks far beneath the seabed of the North Sea, conditions are perfect for storing the CO2 that Norway and Europe need to eliminate. Plans are now being made for a pipeline that can transport CO2 from Europe to Norway. But is all just an excuse to extend the oil age?

The world is in the midst of a climate crisis. And renewable energy, such as solar and wind, will be crucial to solving it. But renewables aren't a panacea for all climate problems.

Because some types of industry are simply too energy-intensive to be electrified, and some of them also emit huge quantities of CO2.

That's why carbon capture and storage – or CCS as it is usually abbreviated – is crucial for cutting emissions and reaching climate targets.

Among those seeking to use this technology is the fertilizer and chemical group Yara. They have recently signed the world's first agreement on capture, transport and storage of CO2 across national borders. Over the next 15 years, they will capture around 12 million tonnes of CO2 from their ammonia production in Sluiskil in the Netherlands – and store it beneath the Norwegian seabed.

Northern Lights CCS plant in Øygarden, photographed from a distance at dusk
Carbon capture and storage is crucial for heavy industry to reach its climate goals
Foto: Ole Jørgen Bratland

Carbon capture and storage is particularly relevant for our industrial plants where there is insufficient renewable energy to electrify. We have no time to lose and must use all the tools we have to cut emissions quickly. We don't believe it's possible to reach our climate targets without CCS.

Magnus Krogh AnkarstrandVice president of Yara Clean Ammonia
 Magnus Ankarstrand

Extensive experience from the Norwegian shelf
Capturing and storing CO2 may seem like a wild idea. But Equinor has already been using the technology for almost 30 years, and we have been able to prove that it works, and that it is safe. So how does it actually work?

CAPTURE: The CO2 can be captured in several ways. The gas is separated from exhaust gases at power plants and in other industrial processes. It is also possible to separate and capture CO2 from natural gas, which is processed to obtain the right quality before being sent to customers.

TRANSPORT: The CO2 gas is then compressed and transported, either through a pipeline, onshore or on a ship, to a receiving facility. From here, the journey goes via pipeline to where the CO2 will be stored: under the seabed.

STORAGE: The CO2 is sent down into dense, underground rock formations, at a depth of around one kilometre or more.

It is safely and permanently stored there – just as oil and gas have been trapped underground for millions of years.

And just as the Norwegian seabed is Europe's largest source of oil and gas, it also has Europe's greatest storage potential for CO2, with capacity to store a gas volume equivalent to more than 1000 years of Norwegian emissions.

A network of pipelines at Equinor's processing plant at Kårstø.

Unique starting point to become a leader

But can it be an excuse to prolong the oil age, as some people have claimed?

"CCS will not be at the expense of, or replace, renewable energy," emphasises Grete Tveit, Equinor's senior vice president for low carbon solutions.

And both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have stated that carbon capture and storage will be an important part of the solution in a low-carbon future.

"We need a breadth of measures and solutions to reduce emissions sufficiently – and CCS is one of the most important tools we have to achieve this. The development of CCS is taking place at the same time as we are investing more and more in renewable energy solutions," Tveit points out.

Grete TveitSenior vice president for low carbon solutions in Equinor
Portrait photo of Grete Tveit, senior vice president for low carbon solutions in Equinor.  Photo: Arne Reidar Mortensen
Map showing 1000km pipeline from Belgium to Norway

Several major projects are now underway to make the Norwegian seabed an important storage site for CO2 for European heavy industries.

Equinor has ambitions to develop more storage licences both on the NCS and elsewhere. The aim is to build a common pipeline infrastructure that contributes to large-scale decarbonisation and a significant cost reduction for the CCS value chain.

The ambition is for Equinor to transport and store between 15 and 30 million tonnes of CO2 each year by 2035. This corresponds to more than 60 per cent of Norway's greenhouse gas emissions in 2022, and will be an important contribution to Europe's energy transition.

Photo: Arne Reidar Mortsensen

"Norway and Equinor are uniquely positioned to become European leaders in CO2 storage. We have the experience, expertise and geological formations that are needed," says Torbjørg Klara Heskestad, head of CCS in Equinor.

Planning large-scale pipe

One of the most important projects currently being planned is a 1,000-kilometre-long pipeline between Norway and Europe. European industrial clusters will be able to connect this pipeline to transport CO2 to Norway in a simpler and cheaper way.

The Northern Lights CCS plant can be seen in the background, with forest in the foreground, at dusk.
Equinor has almost 30 years of experience from carbon capture and storage. This provides a good starting point for leading the way in development. Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland
Foto: Ole Jørgen Bratland

The planned pipeline has been named CO₂ Highway Europe, and will be able to reduce transport costs by over 50 per cent, compared to ships. It will also help to open up, scale and commercialize the market for CO₂ storage in Norway and Europe.

Smeaheia and CO2 Highway Europe will pioneer CO2 transport and storage in northwest Europe. It is incredibly exciting to develop strategic projects that have such great potential

Torbjørg Klara HesestadHead of CCS in Equinor
Portrait photo of Torbjørg Klara Hesestad, head of CCS in Equinor.

Equinor is also a partner in the Northern Lights project, together with Shell and TotalEnergies. Northern Lights will be Norway's first full-scale CO2 value chain facility for transport and storage of CO2, with a storage capacity of up to 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

Equinor is also participating in CO2 capture and storage projects from industry in other countries, such as the USA and the UK.

Two people wearing reflective yellow work clothes with the Equinor logo on the back and white safety helmets, look out over the Northern Lights facility being built by the sea in Øygarden.
From the Northern Lights facility in Øygarden.
Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland

Requires large investments

Grete Tveit points out that it has required enormous investments over several decades to get today's energy systems in place – and that it will also require both time and large investments to change the energy systems.

"The fact that we now see more and more projects within low-carbon solutions in the company gives us faith in progress and results – both in terms of climate and the emergence of new industry," says Tveit.

Northern Lights CCS plant in Øygarden, photographed from a distance at dusk
Carbon capture and storage opens up new industry opportunities
Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland

She emphasizes that a lot must be in place to succeed with the new industry.

"We don't have all the solutions, but we are opening up the possibilities. It takes collaboration, technology development, political ambitions – and not least customers – to succeed with a robust, low-carbon industry."

Facts about CCS:

  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technology that can capture and store more than 95 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the production of electricity and industrial processes – thus preventing emissions from entering the atmosphere.
  • The use of CCS in the cement and steel industry can also result in significant emission reductions, since this sector accounts for 14 per cent of global CO2 emissions.
  • The European Commission has CCS as one of seven priority areas for achieving the goal of a climate-neutral Europe in 2050.
  • CCS also plays a key role in the production of hydrogen. Using carbon capture and storage, we can produce blue hydrogen from natural gas, with very low emissions.

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