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Different situations require different solutions, Multi-modal CO2 transport key on path to net-zero

Publish date: September 6, 2022

SINTEF is Scandinavia’s largest independent research organisation, covering a wide range of topics, from nanotechnology to outer space, with 20 years of research on carbon capture and storage. Bellona sat down with Simon Roussanaly, a research scientist at SINTEF Energy Research to talk about his work and views on industrial decarbonisation and CO2 transportation in the EU.

Highlighting the important role of carbon capture and storage (CCS) on the path to achieving net zero by 2050 and reaching the targets of the Paris Agreement, Simon Roussanaly from SINTEF explains the need to look at CCS as one of several necessary solutions going forward. With references to SINTEF’s own research and the EU project ACCSESS, Simon explains the importance of multiple transport modalities when transporting CO2 to storage and their significant contribution to cost reduction and large-scale deployment of CCS.

From your perspective Simon, why is carbon capture and storage important?

I think that’s a very good question, and what we see is that we have the ambition of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming, and the question is then finding the solutions that help us get there. There are different solutions for different sectors, of course, but in most of the work that has been done, CCS is a key part of reducing emissions in several sectors. Without CCS, there are certain emissions you will not be able to reduce, and CCS is also a more cost-efficient way of reducing emissions. This is something we have seen particularly in the industry sector, or for example, in hydrogen production.

So, I think CCS has an important role to play; it’s also about trying to understand where it fits the best, where it provides the most value, and how it compares to other technologies. When you look at the need to decarbonise, there’s no silver bullet. There’s not one solution; it will be a mix of solutions because there’s a mix of different situations.

What would you say are the main challenges for large-scale deployment of CCS within Europe?

There are a few. I’ll say the first one is that we have a cost discussion problem.

CCS has been highlighted as being very expensive. For example, in the case of cement, CCS can increase the production cost by 50 to 100%. This steep cost increase has raised the question of viability. But, we looked, for example, at the impact of putting CCS in the cement, iron and steel sector, with the example being the cost of building a bridge and the associated emissions of building a bridge.

What we see[1] is that the costs seen at the plant level are way off compared to the cost that you see for the end user. So, a 50% increase in the cement cost and a 20% increase in the iron and steel cost leads to a total cost increase of building a bridge by 1% but a reduction in CO2 emissions of 50%. Clearly, we have a communication problem around this topic.

For comparison, if you talk about electricity, it’s easy to understand for most people that if the cost of electricity increases by 15%, it’s going to impact their bill. But if the cost of cement increased by 50% or 100%, most people, including myself, have no clue of what that means for them because we do not buy cement; we buy a house, we use bridges and things like that. We also need to put these costs into perspective, so the public can clearly understand the cost and benefits of CCS.

What would you say is the role of CO2 transportation in enabling CCS, both fixed and flexible infrastructures?

What we have shown in the past is that pipelines for CO2 transport are very good solutions when you have large volumes and short distances. But as soon as you start to have greater distances, or you need to transport smaller volumes at small to mid-range distances, then other means of transport start to become more interesting[2],[3],[4].

When moving CO2 far and in smaller volumes, pipelines would be completely uneconomic. That’s what we have shown through our research[5]. Ship transport in particular, but also trucks, barges, and train, help to reduce costs. This is particularly important when thinking of transporting smaller volumes, something that is going to be important for early movers. If you look at tank-based transport (ship, barge, trains, and trucks), they are a good way of reducing costs, and are not as capital-intensive as an investment for pipeline, which in a sense reduce risk. And they are also good for providing flexibility.

In terms of flexibility, what we have seen, and shown[6] is that you can have a system where a ship transports CO2 from point A to B for the first five or ten years. As you ramp up captured emissions, you would then need a larger ship going from point A to B. However, this does not mean that the older ship is a stranded asset – it could be used as a flexible transportation mode to transport CO2 from another source point. In fact, this spatial flexibility can be used elsewhere to fit short- and long-term strategies. 

What we also see is that you need to have flexible connectors, which can be quite challenging. For example, it can be very difficult to build a pipeline over 20 kilometres for a small plant, and in these cases, it might just be easier to have a truck transporting the CO2 between two points – and then connect to a more cost-efficient type of system, for example, barge transport.

Do you think there needs to be support, recognition and potential funding of multiple transport modalities, and what would the effect be of such for first movers and small emitters?

I think support, recognition and funding of multiple transport modalities is very important. There are many facilities which will require other means of transport than pipelines if CCS is to be viably implemented at them. Recognition is key to making sure that we do not forget about these emissions; otherwise they will continue to release CO2 into the atmosphere for 10 or 20 years before anything happens.

In addition, ships, barges, trains, and trucks are valid means of transport – just like pipelines. And as already mentioned, they are key in getting smaller emitters, inland emitters and early movers going.

I also think they should be supported. What we are seeing driving CCS in Europe now is that we have industrial sectors that are really engaged and really want to reduce their emissions. For them, it is better to use barge and truck transport because, for example, if you are a cement plant in Poland, you’re not going to build a pipeline on your own to go to the Baltic Sea, to then transport your CO2 to Northern Lights in Norway, right? So, then you have two options. You can use a truck, barge or train to get the CO2 there, and that means that it will first need to be recognised. So, as a plant, you will need to make sure that if you make the effort of actually reducing your emissions, you receive a financial credit necessary to do so, for example, by not having to pay for the CO2 emission cost under the EU ETS. It is worth noting that this was an important aspect for the Longship project, as initially, only CO2 transport via pipeline was recognised under the EU ETS system[7]. You may also need some support to get things started, and as an early mover, you will tend to have higher costs than subsequent projects. If this support does not happen, basically only the other option remains: which is just to do nothing. To continue to emit CO2.

This is a key and important thing, especially in the case of industry. Because we need to reduce industrial emissions, and it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get to net zero without CCS. So, I do not see how the EU can achieve carbon neutrality if they are not supporting the right setting for industries to actually decarbonise emissions with CCS.

What would be your ideal roadmap for CO2 transportation on a European scale, where fixed infrastructure is complemented by these other transport modalities?

I think it’s going to be a mix of fixed and flexible modes of transportation. One of the key things to remember in the beginning is that it will mainly be driven by industry engagement. So, I see that a lot of them are coming along, and the starting point is using tank-based transport. Then, as more actors come along, we will see more and more pipelines developing. You will still have tank-based transport options operating, for example, as connectors.

We are actually working on this through several projects, such as the EU project ACCSESS or the CCS Mid-Norway project[8], where we consider ship, barge, train, and trucks to be key modalities required to cost-efficiently transport CO2, as well as to reduce investments and associated financial risks. These flexible transport modalities are also needed because it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get a pipeline approved in certain places due to societal acceptance issues. Finally, they could also enable faster deployment of CCS and thus emissions reduction, as they tend to require less construction time than pipeline.

Options to use other means of transport than pipelines are important for reducing emissions. With no recognition and support for them, emitters might be left to decide that they cannot do anything, as it is not financially viable to reduce their emissions, and that is not good for anyone.

[1] (PDF) Is CCS really so expensive? An analysis of cascading costs and CO2 emissions reduction of industrial CCS implementation applied to a bridge (researchgate.net)

[2] Energies | Free Full-Text | At what Pressure Shall CO2 Be Transported by Ship? An in-Depth Cost Comparison of 7 and 15 Barg Shipping (mdpi.com)

[3] Benchmarking of CO2 transport technologies: Part II – Offshore pipeline and shipping to an offshore site – ScienceDirect

[4] Benchmarking of CO2 transport technologies: Part I—Onshore pipeline and shipping between two onshore areas – ScienceDirect

[5] Towards improved cost evaluation of Carbon Capture and Storage from industry – ScienceDirect

[6] Deploying a shipping infrastructure to enable carbon capture and storage from Norwegian industries – ScienceDirect

[7] Are we ready for the ship transport of CO2 for CCS? Crude solutions from international and European law – Weber – 2021 – Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law – Wiley Online Library

[8] https://www.sintef.no/siste-nytt/2021/ny-industriklynge-for-co2-fangst-og-lagring-i-midt-norge/

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