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12th Dec 2019

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Rotterdam and Oslo compete to set up first CO2 highway

  • The port of Rotterdam is responsible for some 20 percent of the Dutch emissions (Photo: Marcel Oosterwijk)

Norway and the port of Rotterdam are competing to create the first European chain that will allow CO2 capture from industrial sites to be transported to a storage site offshore.

The two projects featured prominently at a conference in Rotterdam last week, organised by the Global CCS Institute, whose chairman spoke hopefully of a "renaissance" and "renewed interest" in carbon capture and storage (CCS).

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Previous CCS projects in the European Union focused on trapping the climate-changing carbon dioxide gases from coal-fired power plants, with all elements of the process in the hands of a single party. The last surviving EU project was supposed to be a coal-fired power plant with CCS in Rotterdam, but the project's supports pulled out last summer.

Following that failure, the CCS community represented at the Rotterdam conference now seems convinced that a bigger focus should be on trapping CO2 from industrial sites instead of from power plants, and that responsibilities should be divided.

"You have to decouple the business chain," said Emrah Durusut, a CCS consultant at Element Energy.

That is exactly what the port of Rotterdam will be doing, said its CEO, Allard Castelein.

"If you capture the CO2, bring it to the fence of your premises, from there on we'll take care of it," Castelein told companies.

The port of Rotterdam is not only a harbour, but also a hub of industrial activity itself. It produces around 20 percent of the Netherlands' total emissions.

Castelein used to work for Shell and saw at a close distance a public relations disaster unfold when the local inhabitants of a town called Barendrecht rose up against the plan to store CO2 underground there.

"I've got the scars on my back," said Castelein, adding that while the Netherlands has "plenty" options to store CO2 underground, there is not enough public support for that.

Instead, the CO2 from Rotterdam's industry is planned to be stored in depleted gas fields in the North Sea.

A feasibility study is due to be ready by the end of the year, with an investment decision planned for the end of 2018.

CO2 'highway'

The idea is to create a CO2 'highway' which is operated by a separate entity. Companies that have captured their CO2 do not want to be held liable for those molecules for years, the same way citizens want the municipality they live in to take ownership of the domestic rubbish they place outside their house every week.

Rotterdam's plans received a boost in October when after months of negotiations, four Dutch political parties announced a coalition deal, needed to form a new government.

They promised to reduce emissions of 56 megatonnes of CO2 by 2030. A third of that reduction, 18, is planned to be achieved by having industrial sites apply CCS.

Hans Gruenfeld is director of VEMW, a Dutch association of energy-intensive companies.

He told Dutch media, and later EUobserver in an interview, he was surprised by the new government's reduction targets.

"We don't think it is realistic," Gruenfeld said about the 18 megatonne target.

He said that CCS should not be the only route, but could not give a figure that he would think would be more realistic.

"We have a plan to achieve 95 percent reduction in 2050. We do not have a plan for 2030," said Gruenfeld.

Back at the CCS conference though, there was optimism among participants about the Rotterdam project.

"I'm really excited," said Tim Bertels, who leads the work on the feasibility study for Rotterdam's 'backbone' project.

He told the audience he could see Rotterdam's CCS infrastructure be expanded to transport and store CO2 from Antwerp and the German Ruhr area as well.

"There is quite a bit of potential for expansion over time," Bertels said.

Norway's budget

But while Rotterdam's project has this month been given a boost by the political support for CCS in the coalition deal, Norway's has suffered a setback.

Earlier in October, the Norwegian government announced it would cut 90 percent of the budget for the Nordic country's CCS project.

Stig Svenningsen, deputy director general at Norway's ministry for petroleum and energy, said he acknowledged that the budget cut created "uncertainty".

However, he said it was "more of a communication problem" than that the money was not going to be made available for the project.

Roy Vardheim, who heads the Norwegian industrial CCS initiative, the Technology Centre Mongstad, said the uncertainty was due to the fact that Norway now has a minority government.

"There will now be probably a very strong political debate," he said, before a revised budget is adopted in May next year.

The companies involved in the Norwegian initiative for now are going ahead as planned, they said, adding they have been informed by the responsible minister.

"They really want to do this," Pal Mikkelsen said about the Norwegian government. Mikkelsen is CCS director at Fortum Oslo Varme, whose waste incinerator will capture its CO2 as part of the Norwegian CO2 highway.

"We cannot simply afford to take a wait, so we just carry on," said Cristel Lambton, subsea facilities leader at Statoil.

Rotterdam has planned to begin storing CO2 in 2020, while Norway has 2022 as date to be fully operational.

"There will be a fierce competition on being the first one," said Vardheim.

Investigation

After spending €587 million, EU has zero CO2 storage plants

The EU has spent at least €587 million so far on carbon capture and storage, and was willing to spend millions more. However, after a decade not a single power plant in the EU is currently using the technology.

Europe holds off on storing CO2

Most reports looking at long-term climate scenarios agree that some form of carbon capture and storage is needed. However, its deployment has been stalled in the EU.

EU to embrace CO2 recycling

The EU is getting ready to increase its support for the development of carbon capture and utilisation, a technology to recycle CO2 as a usable material. But some warn against CCU as a possible means for 'greenwashing'

Interview

Ex-MEP pushes CCS projects, despite 'wasted money'

Chris Davies admitted that the amendment he wrote to set up a fund to finance carbon capture and storage projects failed because it had design flaws and no one expected the carbon price to plummet.

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