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How carbon capture and storage became a decisive climate solution

In the beginning, the goal was to reduce CO2 from gas extraction. Now, carbon capture and storage (CCS) will help European industries transition.

“The need for CCS is huge – and the potential is huge. As we increase the scale and lower the costs – while the CO2 taxes increase – the market will work. This gap will keep getting smaller,” says Torbjorg Fossum, vice president for global CCS solutions at Equinor.

Recently it became known that Norway has landed its first commercial agreement on carbon capture and storage. The large fertiliser company Yara will buy space to store the emissions from their factory in the Netherlands on the Norwegian continental shelf – and increased CO2 taxes mean that this will be very profitable for them. In other words, Norway has started selling solutions for handling CO2 to the world.

This is happening through the Northern Lights project, a collaboration between Equinor, Shell and TotalEnergies.

A growing market

Norcem's cement factory in Porsgrunn will also transport and store its CO2 through Northern Lights. Here, Aker Carbon Capture is building the world's first carbon capture facility of its kind. This will annually remove 400,000 tonnes of CO2.

“If the world is to reach the goal of net zero emissions by 2050, we must remove between 7 and 9 billion tonnes of CO2 a year. In other words, the need for CCS is enormous – and now the market is following suit because it is starting to pay off commercially,” says Emil Yde Aasen in Aker Carbon Capture.

Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland

He says that over the past two years, we have seen the number of planned CCS projects worldwide double annually.

If this development continues, we may actually be able to achieve the goals we have set ourselves in Paris.

An industry problem

What is today considered a crucial solution in the energy transition originated on a trip to a cabin in 1986. Sintef researcher Erik Lindeberg was visited by colleague Torleif Holt – and loose talk turned into a professional discussion. The conversation focused on a topic they were both concerned with: how to deal with the CO2 from gas extraction. What if you were to place the carbon dioxide back where it came from – in other words, re-inject it below the seabed?

The petroleum researchers received funding from Statoil to investigate the idea more closely.

Ten years later, the early ideas and their further development led to Statoil and partners, for the first time, pumping CO2 from natural gas onto a platform and into the bedrock in the North Sea.

This happened at the Sleipner field and was a result of the gas containing too much CO2 to be sold – combined with a recently introduced CO2 tax. In 2008, the same technology was used in the Snøhvit field.

A winning ticket in geology

The seabed off the coast of Norway is well suited for CO2 storage. There is room for CO2 equivalent to more than 1,000 years of Norwegian emissions. This will become an important storage space for other European countries as well.

“We are very lucky to have a unique storage capacity in Norway. In addition, we have the expertise and experience from oil and gas, which we can now use to develop and build the CCS infrastructure,” says Fossum.

Although the experiences from Equinor have been good, not everyone has welcomed the concept. It has been argued that it is just an excuse to be able to continue using fossil fuels.

But CCS should in no way replace renewable energy, Fossum emphasises. Rather, the technology is an important part of the toolbox for industries that are too energy demanding to be electrified. CCS will also become central to decarbonising, for example, the cement and steel industry, where CO2 emissions from the production process must be handled.

“We must do everything we can to increase the production of renewable energy. But it will not be enough to bring the world down to zero emissions by 2050, which the UN Climate Panel also acknowledges. CCS is also an important part of the solution,” Fossum states.

Won a diploma

When the UN climate panel received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, they awarded Statoil and the researchers Olav Karstad and Tore A. Torp a diploma. They received it for contributing to the IPCC's report on carbon capture and storage and their work to show that carbon capture and storage is both possible and safe.

Great opportunities for Norwegian companies

Norway's long experience and extensive knowledge of CCS – combined with the large storage capacity on the continental shelf – puts Norway in a unique position to lead the way in development.

It also offers opportunities for Norwegian companies. A study from SINTEF shows that the CCS industry can create thousands of new jobs leading up to 2050 – and be vital for Norwegian industries' competitiveness in a low-emission society.

CCS represents a new and sustainable industrial adventure for Norway, where we have a unique starting point. And if you have a CCS infrastructure, it will attract other industries that want to be close to this infrastructure.

Torbjørg Fossum vice president for global CCS solutions, Equinor

Developing new markets

If we are to achieve the pledged climate goals, developing new markets for low-carbon solutions is also crucial – both in Norway and in the rest of the world. Equinor actively contributes to developing these markets and aims for a leading position in the European CCS market.

In the UK Equinor is developing the hydrogen plant H2H Saltend – which, with the help of carbon capture and storage, will decarbonise the surrounding industry.

In the US Equinor is investigating the possibilities of developing CCS and hydrogen plants in collaboration with U.S. Steel.

On the Norwegian continental shelf, in addition to the Northern Lights project, Equinor is developing the CO2 storage facilities Smeaheia in the North Sea and Polaris in the Barents Sea. In the long term, Smeaheia will be able to receive as much as 20 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

Together with Belgian Fluxys, Equinor is also looking at the possibility of a separate CO2 pipe that will transport CO2 from industry in Belgium to the Norwegian seabed. A similar collaboration has also been established with Wintershall DEA to assess the possibility of a CO2 pipe from Germany.

It can reduce transport costs by as much as 50 percent compared to what the market offers today. But for that to become a reality, it needs to be large-scale. Equinor is therefore working with several European industrial clusters to collect enough volumes for the CO2 pipe to become a reality.

One of the UK's biggest emission points is in Humber, a large industrial area outside Hull.
One of the UK's biggest emission points is in Humber, a large industrial area outside Hull. The ambition is to make the industrial cluster emission-free, with the help of, among other things, carbon capture and hydrogen.
Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland

“CCS's decade”

However, it is not the first time Equinor has tried to realise industrial CCS projects – and some point to the proposed full-scale carbon capture at the Mongstad gas power plant as an example of how difficult it is to succeed. So, what's different now?

“Today, we have the Paris Agreement, which unites large parts of the world and has led to many countries and companies setting zero-emission targets. That makes it clear that CCS must play a role. And it means we have a much greater combined force behind a common goal,” states Fossum.

Emil Yde Aasen in Aker Carbon Capture believes the 2020s is “CCS's decade”.

“The future of the CCS industry will be decided in the eight years we have until 2030. The projects that are now underway are completely dependent on functioning as they should to show that we can trust the technology,” he points out.

"When we get to 2030, I hope we can look back and see that we have reached the scale we want, that the market is mature, and that the technology has been demonstrated in several types of industries – and that all we have to do is step on the gas pedal.”

This is CCS:

  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technology that can capture and store more than 95 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) from the production of electricity and industrial processes – thus preventing the emissions from escaping into the atmosphere.
  • The use of CCS in the cement and steel industry can also significantly reduce emissions since this sector accounts for 14 percent of the world's CO2 emissions.
  • The European Commission has CCS as one of seven focus areas to achieve the goal of a climate-neutral Europe in 2050.

This is one of many stories from our first 50 years. It is also part of the story of how we will succeed with the energy transition.

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