Meeting climate change goals will require countries around the world to not only cut back on emissions, but also scrub CO2 that’s already been released from the air. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is now ramping up to become of the most popular solutions for tackling climate change. Denmark has just kicked off its plan to bury CO2 in an old oil field 1.8 km beneath the North Sea in what will be the world’s first cross-border CCS project, setting a target of storing up to eight million tonnes of CO2 per year.
While CCS projects are still in their infancy and costly, there are currently 30 CCS projects in Europe that are either operational or under development. Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik recently jumpstarted Project Greensand, a CCS endeavor that will pump CO2 back into an old North Sea oil reservoir, 50 years after Denmark first launched its offshore oil and gas production. Unlike other projects that only store CO from nearby industrial sites, Greensand intends to also accept carbon shipments from abroad. During the inauguration ceremony, Frederik expressed high hopes for their plans to bury CO2 underground and affect climate change for the benefit of Denmark, Europe, and the rest of the world.
First, carbon will be captured at its source before being liquefied in Belgium by British chemical company Ineos. Next, the liquefied carbon will be transported by ship, or pipelines, to the North Sea where it will be stored in underwater reservoirs. In the future, countries will be able to transport their carbon directly to Denmark without going through Belgium. The Danish government, who aims to achieve carbon neutrality by as early as 2045, regard CCS as one of the necessary tools they need to meet their goal. Denmark’s subsoil also contains a storage potential far greater than their own emissions, meaning they are more than capable of storing carbon from other countries.
Breathing new life into old oil fields
The North Sea is particularly suited for carbon storage thanks to a graveyard of abandoned oil fields, left behind by decades of offshore oil and gas production. In addition, the area is already well understood by experts and much of the needed infrastructure is already in place for reuse. Near the site, French energy company, TotalEnergies, is also exploring the possibility of storing CO2 with a goal of trapping and storing five million tonnes per year by 2030. Norway is Western Europe’s largest producer of oil and possesses the greatest capacity for CO2 storage on the continent. While CCS facilities are already in operation to offset domestic emissions, Norway expects to receive tonnes of liquefied CO2 in a few years’ time.
Of course, CCS is not without its drawbacks. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) stated that the process of CCS itself will emit the equivalent of 21% of the gas captured. However, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have continued to embrace CCS as a necessary means when combating climate change.
Carbon storage is a ticking time bomb
The European Environment Agency’s (EEA) calculations revealed that EU member states expelled 3.7 billion tons of greenhouse gases in just 2020 alone. If carbon neutrality is to remain a possibility for the EU, then they would need to capture and store 300 million tonnes of CO2 per year. While U.S. and European governments have provided large subsidies for CCS, it can hardly be deemed the miracle cure-all for global warming.
IEEFA analyst, Bruce Robertson, has revealed a number of risks when it comes to CCS. Besides being an expensive process, each project must be specifically tailored according to the underground conditions of where the carbon is to be stored. There’s also no certainty that the stored CO2 won’t be released in the event of a natural disaster (e.g., earthquake). Robertson has ultimately likened the situation to setting up a series of carbon bombs underground that have the potential to detonate at some unknown time in the future.
(Image Source: Flickr/Lars Plougmann CC By 2.0)