In a major breakthrough for corporate climate accountability, Microsoft has signed a memorandum of understanding with Norway’s Equinor to explore the use of a carbon storage facility as the software giant works to erase its carbon footprint, both companies said on Wednesday.
The initiative follows on Microsoft’s pledge in January to remove enough CO2 from the planet’s atmosphere by 2050 to balance out all of its emissions since 1975. The company also pledged to invest $1 billion in technologies geared toward removing carbon dioxide.
Microsoft will now become a technology partner in the Northern Lights project, part of a wider Norwegian effort to develop carbon capture technologies at industrial sites and store the emitted CO2 under the seabed.
“Our goal is not only to contribute our technology and know-how, but explore how new solutions like the Northern Lights project can help us meet our own carbon negative goals by 2030,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a statement quoted by Reuters.
Northern Lights is a collaboration between Equinor, Shell and Total, and is also a part of the Norwegian CO2 capture and storage project called Longship, the world’s first multi-source carbon capture and storage project, unveiled in September.
That project carries CO2 captured at the Norcem cement plant in Brevik in southeastern Norway and delivers it for storage under the North Sea. The effort is part of Norway’s ambition to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90 to 95 percent by 2050.
Bellona has made significant contributions toward developing a customer base for the Northern Lights project by identifying and encouraging corporations that can supply CO2 for sequestration.
“It is commendable that Microsoft has said that they want to compensate for their historical CO2 emissions,” said Bellona President Frederic Hauge, who also serves deputy head of the European Commission’s expert and technology platform for CO2 capture and storage. “
“We cannot solve climate problems without such attitudes,” Hauge told the Norwegian newspaper VG. “That companies are willing to pay for negative emissions is a breakthrough for our way of thinking. Now there are guaranteed to be several major international players who will invest in this. It is an enormous signal that Norway gets Microsoft on the team.”
The Norwegian government is expected to cover about 80 percent of the 6.9 billion Norwegian crown ($751 million) cost of the CO2 deposit’s first stage, which would be able to store 1.5 million tons of CO2 per year, Equinor has said.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Minister of Petroleum and Energy Tina Bru were present when the agreement was signed in Oslo on Wednesday, together with top executives from Microsoft, Equinor, Shell and Total.
Microsoft’s Smith told the news conference it was important to find new ways to pay for carbon to be removed and stored permanently.
“That’s why this new technology is of such critical importance to a company like Microsoft,” he said via video link, Reuters reported.
“I believe we will be one of many companies… that would want to purchase the services for carbon to be removed, to be captured and to be stored,” he said.
The Northern Lights initiative will be responsible for creating an open-source, ship-based carbon transport and storage network including developing business models to store captured CO2 from across Europe. The final investment decision is subject to the Norwegian parliament’s approval, anticipated late 2020. The plan is to start operations in 2024.
Microsoft will explore the use of Northern Lights’ CO2 transport and storage facility as part of the company’s portfolio of carbon capture, transportation, and storage projects.
Bellona’s Hauge believes that the Northern Lights project will eventually create thousands of carbon capture and storage jobs as more international customers join the effort. Microsoft, for example, could deliver all of its emissions from aluminum for storage withing the Northern Lights network.
“CO₂ management is an important climate measure,” Bru, the petroleum and energy minister, told VG. “This collaboration between Microsoft and Equinor on the Northern Lights project demonstrates a joint effort and aims to provide technology development and cost reductions. This is necessary for Longship and for the global roll-out of capture and storage of CO₂ to be a success.”