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BRUSSELS OFFICE : +32 (0)2 895 5709

Carbon vivant

13/07/17Environment

At the annual general assembly meeting of the Zero Emissions Platform, the case was made for carbon capture and storage

In March, the Zero Emissions Platform held its annual general assembly meeting and European Parliament hearing on carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Brussels, Belgium. A variety of high-level stakeholders were in attendance to discuss the potential role CCS could play in combatting global warming and limiting the volume of CO2 emissions that are driving climate change.

Gassnova is the Norwegian state enterprise for CCS, which is driving research into technology and solutions for implementing CCS, and the organisation’s CEO, Trude Sundset, was in attendance to discuss the ways in which Norway is leading the charge for the technology. The company acts in an advisory capacity, demonstrating examples of best practice and offering information to relevant authorities on the subject of carbon capture, which also allows it to highlight the role technology can play in the global fight against climate change.

Norwegian spirit

While Norway remains ahead of many other countries in its use of the technology, Sundset argued that there is nevertheless a sense that the industry needs to step up its efforts in order to fully address climate challenges. “We feel that there is a new sense of urgency after the Paris Climate Agreement – the attitude has changed. We see that people no longer argue about renewables or CCS, or talk about energy efficiency for CCS. More and more politicians, NGOs and even the general public now see that the climate issue is so urgent that we have to use all the tools in our toolbox, and CCS is a very important part of that. It has to happen for us to combat climate change, and there’s no way around it.”

The foremost concern, Sundset continued, is implementing CCS at the kind of scale that will be necessary to have a targeted impact on global warming, and in particular, securing the funding that will facilitate that implementation: “The big question to be asked of the future is how we can take the technology further whilst saving money … The technology is there, and we know we can do it because we’ve seen it in other parts of the world. In Norway, we have more than 20 years’ experience in storing CO2 offshore. We just have to want to do it and spend the money to do it; that’s all it is.”

Given the urgency of the targets set under the Paris Climate Agreement, mustering this political will is less of a challenge than it has previously been, and the priority for Sundset is demonstrating the business opportunities that CCS represents in order to catalyse an influx of funding. This will require greater engagement between the government – and Gassnova in particular – and the private energy industry. “What we’re focusing on,” Sundset said, “is how to turn this challenge into a business opportunity. What we’re seeing now is that many of these industries don’t have a choice.” CCS is perhaps the only way that some companies will be able to significantly reduce or offset their CO2 emissions, and so a partnership with Gassnova could allow these businesses to take advantage of Norway’s expertise in the field.

However, this is a significant challenge. According to Jonas Helseth, director of Bellona Europe – an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to exploring solutions to climate challenges – there is currently very little potential for companies to make a profit by investing CCS. At the session, he warned: “We talk about cost and we talk about the business case, [but] I can see that there is no business case at the moment. That is why these projects aren’t happening in Europe.”

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Global participation

The fact that CCS projects are happening in other parts of the world, however, offers an opportunity to gather some positive momentum for trying similar projects in Europe. Too many such projects, Helseth insisted, have been cancelled before they demonstrate their viability, and much of this is down to a false perception of CCS: “The fact that we see these things happening in other parts of the world is very important, because a lot of people in Europe have the impression that this technology is too expensive, non-functioning and risky, because they haven’t been able to do it. But people are doing it elsewhere, because it’s not the technology [failing]; we are doing something wrong.”

Also in attendance at the meeting was Kamel Ben Naceur, director for sustainable energy policy and technology at the International Energy Agency (IEA), who emphasised that if the European Commission takes a “technology-neutral” approach to solutions, it could finally recognise the potential of CCS as a vital component of efforts to combat global warming. “We have been developing 2°C compatible scenarios […] and if we want to optimise them and be technology neutral, CCS plays a very important role.” The 2°C scenarios the IEA has been exploring refer to the commitment made under the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to 2°C above 1990 levels – although the agreement also encourages efforts to reduce this further, and keep the global temperature below 1.5°C above 1990 levels.

Ben Naceur reiterated that reports have shown CCS could have a strong material impact on reaching this target: “About 15% of emissions could be abated with CCS between now and 2050 in a 2°C scenario. It was confirmed by an IPCC assessment report that the whole system could be much more expensive without CCS. A very important point is that technology neutrality helps in terms of reducing the cost.”

From his perspective, an additional level of urgency arises from the scale of the challenge ahead, and the fact that CCS could make an immediate and transformative impact if more funding was made available: “Today, there are 30 million tonnes of CO2 being injected [into the ground]. By 2050, in a 2°C, we need to inject six billion tonnes. This is a factor of more than two orders of magnitude.” But CCS projects, Ben Naceur insisted, take less time to establish than other energy projects, meaning that if suitable locations for storage are found, the technology could fulfil even the most urgent emission reduction needs: “You may say that it takes time to build. But if you look at the typical time for a project in CCS, it is about ten years from the first discussions to the actual implementation […] We have 35 years to increase injection by two orders of magnitude, and we need to have all the ingredients in place to achieve that.”

This year Norway is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first discussions around the concept of CCS, conversations which led to the establishment of the Sleipner CO2 storage project in 1996. The project was the world’s first offshore storage plant for CO2, and represented a milestone in both the development and the more widespread implementation of the technology. Ben Naceur commended the partners, companies, NGOs, scientific organisations, the European Commission and other representatives for what he described as a “team effort” in bringing the Sleipner project to life, and demonstrating for the first time ever that CCS can be done safely and effectively.

Undoubtedly, the country is a leading player in implementing CCS, and extensions to the Sleipner project are currently under construction. By taking Norway’s examples of best practice on-board, countries across Europe can demonstrate the potential cost savings offered by carbon capture and storage, and ultimately support it to play a vital role in combatting global warming.

This article will appear in Pan European Networks: Government 22, which will be published in July.