The world will be cooked without CCS

Publish date: November 10, 2021

Written by: Signy Fardal, Eivind Berstad

Bellona has been working for carbon capture and storage (CCS) since 1992. Yet it took several decades for the UN Climate Panel to recommend CCS as an important measure for limiting global warming to 1.5 Celsius degrees.

Bellona has been working for carbon capture and storage (CCS) since 1992. Yet it took several decades for the UN Climate Panel to recommend CCS as an important measure for limiting global warming to 1.5 Celsius degrees.

“These are the lost years,” says Bellona founder Frederic Hauge. “The world is cooked without CCS.”

At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, CCS is a hot topic, and there has been much agreement that the technology is an important ingredient in combatting climate change. At Bellona’s pavilion at COP26’s blue zone, the organization is presenting 121 climate solutions and CCS plays a crucial role.

In 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA) wrote that CO2 absorption should increase from a current 40 million ton to 800 million ton by 2030 – a twenty-fold increase ­– if the world hope to achieve its climate goals. And Sintef, a leading Norwegian energy research agency, recently said that adopting CCS would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent by 2060.

The idea has taken some time to penetrate.

In short, experts agree that CCS has a big role to play in combatting climate change. But this hasn’t always been the case, and it has taken a long time to get here. For Bellona, ​​carbon capture and storage began with a climate campaign 28 years ago. CSS – which is the English abbreviation for carbon capture and storage – is a process that captures emissions at their source and stores them in special underground formations.

Although the technology is relatively new, it relies on existing technological structures in innovative ways. Indeed, various pieces of the scheme have been used by industry for decades. The oil industry in the US, for instance, first used the practice in 1977.

In Norway, carbon capture hit the agenda in 1991 and was necessitated by the introduction of separate tax on CO2 emissions. At the time, Statoil, as Equinor, the Norwegian oil and gas giant, was then called, was having a hard time unloading the natural gas it produced at the Sleipner field because it contained too much CO2 for European gas buyers.

The tax thus gave Statoil an incentive to think creatively, and engineers discovered that by injecting CO2 into geological formations at Utsira, the CO2 was eliminated. This also made it possible to produce water from the same formation that was used for pressure support in nearby oil fields – killing three birds with one stone. Since 1996, tons of CO2 have been stored annually in the Utsira formation.

From sausage cookers to CCS

Bellona’s first public campaign for CCS began in 1996.  The topic suddenly had relevance in Norwegian politics when the government considered whether to build new gas-fired power plants on Norway’s west coast. Much of the public was against this because of the CO2 emissions the plants would produce. But Bellona suggest that if CCS technology were installed from the outset, the overall emissions would be small. The issue, unfortunately, wasn’t subject to proper public debate, and the project developer eventually rejected the CCS option over its cost and the youth of the technology.

Then, in 1997, Bellona founder Hauge took the case to Norwegian television, calling conventional gas plants “sausage cookers.” In that appearance, he again pointed out that things didn’t have to be that way – that CO2 purification technology was there for the taking. The show made an impression, and Bellona worked intensively thereafter to enshrine CO2 as a pollutant in Norway’s Pollution Control Act.

ingressimage_ingressimage_Frederic-seminar-ONS08-1..JPG Bellona's Frederic Hauge has been attending UN climate talks since 1992. Credit: Anne Karin Saether/Bellona

The following year Hauge addressed the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, the employers organization with thousands of members, at their annual conference.  Hauge demonstrated that around 500 billion tons of CO2 can be stored in aquifers – bodies of permeable rock often containing groundwater – along Norway’s continental shelf.

Plans for onshore gas power plants in Norway were later canceled, while Bellona’s vision for climate action grew. Bellona’s campaign for CCS was gradually focused on how CCS could be used in industries that didn’t produce energy, but were nonetheless fraught with emissions – industries like cement, steel and the steam reforming of natural gas. These were, in other words, industries that would continue to emit carbon even if all energy production were eventually shifted entirely to renewables.

It was just the beginning of Bellona’s advocacy for CCS.

CCS in Brussels

In 1994, Bellona opened an office in Brussels, the capital of the European Union. In the beginning, nuclear work was central, but later topics such as renewable energy and CO2 management began to take up more of the office’s time. In September 2002, the then Bellona Europe leader Paal Frisvold and Bellona founder Hauge arranged a meeting at the Bellona office in Brussels. There they gave a talk on CCS and handed out an article about Hydrogen that Hauge had written in Aftenposten, one of Norway’s leading dailies.

The following year, in March 2003, Bellona organized the first CCS hearing in the European Parliament with a presentation called “The Road to the Hydrogen Society”. Statoil participated and spoke of its experience with storage, and several representatives from the European Commission attended the hearing.

At a conference in Brussels in 2004, Hauge spoke about the future of coal-fired power plants, and pointed out that funding for research on CCS on coal had to be put in place. Shortly afterwards, Bellona was invited to meet the EU Energy Commissioner.

In 2005, Bellona published a feasibility study for CO2 management in Norway, and also played a central in establishing the EU’s technology platform for CCS, the Zero Emission Platform (ZEP). Frederic Hauge was elected deputy head of ZEP, and Bellona played an active role both in the work of adopting a set of rules for storing CO2 in a responsible manner as well as financing an EU demonstration program for CO2 management.

“Together with other actors, we worked systematically for three years to gain an understanding that the EU countries had to find a mechanism to finance full-scale CO2 treatment plants,” Hauge says.

Hauge’s role as deputy head of ZEP was recently taken over by the general manager of Bellona Europe, Jonas Helseth.

03-08-Brussle-CCS-15.jpg Paal Frisvold and Frederic Hauge in Brussels. Credit: Bellona

Moon landing at Mongstad

In 2006, the Norwegian government promised to launch a CO2 purification at Mongstad, on Norway’s west coast. Norway’s then Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg described it as the nation’s “moon landing” in his New Year’s speech to the people. It occurred almost 15 years after Bellona began talking about CO2 purification for the first time, and eight years after Hauge’s appearance before the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise.

In 2008, Bellona published the report “How to combat global warming” and in this connection held its first appeal for measures to achieve net negative emissions. At the same time, new resources became available to European stakeholders who wanted to reduce their CO2 emissions, and to build a dialogue to convince technology skeptics of the need for CCS.

In 2009, Bellona established BEST (Bellona Environmental CCS Team), which works to promote faster implementation of CO2 capture and storage solutions through national roadmaps. BEST also participates in a number of important forums and networks and produces numerous publications. In that same year, Hauge held several key positions in Brussels, including as a board member of the EU’s technology platform for biofuels. Hauge was given the task of leading the work of establishing a common technology platform for biofuels and CO2 management. In the same year, Bellona ensured that the red-green government platform, the Soria Moria Declaration, contained wording on CCS.

One of the hardest nuts to crack was finding capital and funding for CCS projects. Bellona’s active contribution to the first EU-level trial culminated in the EU Emission Trading System, the first major global greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme. The financing mechanism, called NER300, established the first formal mechanism to link revenues from CO2 capture and use auctions to support climate projects.

But in September 2013, Stoltenberg announced that plans for a full-scale CO2 treatment plant at Mongstad had been shelved. The costs were too high, and the uncertainty too great, said the then Minister of Petroleum Ola Borten Moe. In an interview with VG, another major Norwegian daily, Hauge described the decision as the ugliest political crash landing he had ever seen. That same year, Bellona created a separate program to set the course for CCS after the Mongstad collapse.

In 2015, Bellona succeeded in lobbying for CO2 emissions from North Sea Snøhvit gas field to be sequestered. That same year, Bellona published two reports on CCS; “North Sea to the Rescue” about CCS and jobs on the shelf and “Norway’s future CO2 economy” (in Norwegian), which argued for the development of a CO2 cluster in the southwestern Norway industrial area of Grenland and the rebuilding of Kårstø industrial facility in the country’s west so that it can become a hub for CO2 storage in Europe.

In 2018, Bellona published the report “An Industry`s guide to Climate Action“. The report illustrated CCS as a crucial solution for several industrial sectors, such as cement, steel and chemicals. The report received wide coverage and is used by a number of industry players.

Longship and Northern Lights

In September 2020, then Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Minister of Petroleum and Energy Tina Bru and Minister of Climate and Environment Sveinung Rotevatn convened a press conference to say they favor supporting CO2 capture and storage for the Norcem cement factory. The government has dubbed the project “Longship”, which also includes the transport and storage part – called “Northern Lights”– in the North Sea.

“There is every reason to praise the government for today’s decision,” said Hauge at the time. “This is historic. We are now seeing the beginning of a new emission-free industrial era. Bellona has long worked for heavy industry and waste to have a climate solution that works. Many people have the opportunity to capture CO2, but no one has a place to do it. Here, Erna Solberg and the government take a on responsibility no one else has taken before.”

At the same time, the waste incinerator Fortum Oslo Varme’s (FOV) at Klemetsrud received conditional support from the Solberg government to install CCS technology. The government granted the company NOK 3 billion, stipulating that it eventually finance itself. Fortum Oslo Varme noted in a press release that it was gratified ot have concrete financing for carbon capture.

The Klemetsrud project is among the most mature CCS projects in Europe. It involves large investments, but is competitive in cost per tonof CO2 emissions. Over its planned operating time of at least 25 years, the FOV will capture approximately 10 million ton of CO2 for permanent storage.

Klemetsrud was also one of 311 projects that applied for support from the EU Innovation Fund. In March 2021, it became clear that FOV was one of 70 projects that are still in the running to get that cash injection. The final decision will be made in mid-November 2021.

“It is very gratifying that the CCS project at Klemetsrud is taken further,” says Christian Eriksen, Bellona’s Head of Policy and Research.  “This means that the EU’s innovation fund sees the development opportunities inherent in the project, the need for solutions for waste management, and the importance of more capture facilities that can deliver to Northern Lights.”

Bellona has for several years collaborated with Heidelberg Cement in Brevik and Fortum Oslo Varme to develop CO2 capture and storage as a solution in Norway and Europe. HeidelbergCement now has several similar projects underway in Europe.

Praise from John Kerry

The concept of the shared infrastructure for transport and storage of CO2 that Norway is now rolling out is based on Bellona’s work. In the last three years, more than 30 commercial CO2 capture plants for power generation, cement and hydrogen have been announced.

When John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, gave his very first speech as the Americans’ climate Tsar in January 2021, he cited the planned carbon capture plant at HeidebergCement in Brevik as a shining example of what opportunities a future with zero emissions provides for business.

Bellona is now in Glasgow at the COP26 UN climate talks demonstrating technological solutions to climate issues.

“We are in Glasgow at COP26 to present 121 climate solutions,” says Hauge. “We are creating an arena that shows that we in the world’s richest countries contribute. By developing carbon-negative strategies, there is hope that we will be able to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. I am not so concerned about a fossil-free future, but I am concerned about an emission-free future, and therefore we place great emphasis on CCS.”