Pumping industrial emissions into the depths of the Earth’s crust – is it a silver bullet to pump the breaks on climate change? Norway says yes, as it prepares to launch the world’s first cross-border carbon storage facility. But will it cut global emissions? Or just greenwash and prolong the same old polluting practices?
Carbon capture: The only hope for clean cement?
Cement production accounts for about 6 percent of global emissions, so here at Heidelberg’s plant in Brevik they will be capturing 50 percent of the CO2 from their chimneys and store it instead of emitting it. The gas is separated from the rest of the emissions, then cooled off and compressed into a liquid form that is shipped away to a storage facility.
Separating CO2 from the other waste gases is expensive and energy intensive, but the Brevik plant uses recycled heat from the cement kiln to power its desorber. The industry also argues that CO2 is an inevitable by-product in cement production, and that they can only reduce current emissions by a third through other means, making carbon capture and storage (CCS) the only way to make their product carbon neutral.
A final resting place for CO2
The ships will arrive at the Northern Lights facility off the West coast where a set of pumps will unload the liquefied CO2 into the terminal, and from there, a pipeline will take it 100 kilometres out to sea and inject it 2 kilometres under the seabed.
The under-sea storage aquifer will store up to 1.5 million tonnes per year in its first phase, with a view to scale it up to 5 million per year in 2030. And the clients are lining up: apart from Heidelberg Materials, Dutch fertiliser giant Yara and Danish energy company Orsted have already signed deals to the tune of 1.23 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
Northern Lights’s Managing Director Borre Jacobsen believes that if demand rises enough in the years to come, pipelines could spring up across Europe to transport carbon from industrial hubs to facilities like this one.
A cash cow for oil and gas giants
The Norwegian government financed 80 percent of the project – Total, Shell, and Equinor covered the remaining 20 percent. The oil giants, who will reap the profits, argue they have the necessary expertise. After all, it is much the same technology as oil and gas extraction – drilling wells, transporting natural gas, and building pipelines. And what’s more, they have been injecting CO2 into oil wells since the 1950s to extract more oil from aging fields.
But is it wise to put the fossil fuels industry at the heart of the climate solution?
Norway: A CCS powerhouse
Northern Lights is only the tip of the iceberg of Norway’s CCS ambitions: The Minister of Trade and Industry Jan Christian Vestre says the country’s carbon storage capacity could climb to 40 million tonnes per year by 2030.
What’s more, he presents the Nordic petro-state as the future CCS provider for the EU, vaunting their decades of experience in the oil and gas industry as what makes them uniquely qualified to lead the way.
A study in greenwashing?
But what if CCS is nothing more than a distraction?
Silje Lundberg from NGO Oil Change International condemns the project as an act of greenwashing: “The fact that Total, Equinor and Shell are the ones that are financing this project also just goes to show that they are using it as a way of prolonging the industry instead of actually looking into real solutions”.