Tuesday

18th Feb 2020

Feature

Norwegian polluters want state-led CO2 storage

  • Cement production at Norcem (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The temperature in the Norwegian city of Porsgrunn was around freezing point when EUobserver visited the Norcem cement factory in March, with piles of snow shoved to the side not yet wanting to melt.

By contrast, walking alongside the grey cilinder-shaped contraption felt like opening a pre-heated oven.

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  • The planned route of the 'CO2 highway' in Norway (Photo: Gassnova)

It is this excess heat, which now uselessly escapes into the air, which Norcem wants to use to trap something much more harmful which is also being released into the atmosphere: carbon dioxide (CO2).

Man-made CO2 is responsible for changing the average world temperature since the industrial revolution: it has already risen by 1.1C.

Another 0.9C and the earth's ecosystem reaches a tipping point leading to potentially catastrophic climate change.

Per Brevik, director of alternative fuels and sustainability at HeidelbergCement, the parent company of Norcem, has no qualms admitting that he works in an industry that is heavily contributing to climate change.

"The cement industry counts for about four to six percent of man-made CO2 per year," he said, adding that HeidelbergCement produces some 70m tonnes of CO2 annually.

The CO2 emissions are a result of the production process, to which, Brevik said, no alternative exists.

"It will come. But in the near future, I don't see it," he said. So, Norcem is turning to the procedure called carbon capture and storage (CCS).

"We have to do something," Brevik said.

"We are going to capture 400,000 tonnes per year and that is about 50 percent of what we emit here in CO2," he noted.

There is only one problem. CCS is expensive and there is no incentive for companies to do it.

The only 'punishment' companies face for emitting CO2, is that they have to hand in a certificates from the EU's emission trading system. (Norway is not an EU member but does take part in the ETS).

However, the price of a permit to emit a tonne of CO2 is much lower than the price of trapping and storing a tonne of CO2.

Norway's minority government wants to step in, by setting up a full-scale CCS value chain, or CO2 'highway'.

The idea is that the polluting companies would be in charge of capturing the CO2, but different entities would deal with the transport and storage part.

The Norwegian state-owned CCS company Gassnova recently organised a tour for CCS experts – and this reporter – to promote the project, which has not yet received the full go-ahead.

By mid-May, the government will present its revised national budget to the Norwegian parliament – which will then have to adopt the budget before the summer break, normally in June. That would include the decision whether to move the project to the so-called FEED phase (Front-End Engineering Design).

Three industrial plants are interested, petroleum minister Terje Soviknes told EUobserver in an interview.

"One ammonia plant, one cement plant and one waste incineration plant. … We have a discussion whether we should go forward with all three, just one, or two," said Soviknes.

A report which came out at the end of April contained helpful evidence for those supporting the project.

Norwegian research institute Sintef concluded that embracing CCS could create thousands of jobs.

And it could make Norway a north European hub. Once the storage infrastructure is there, it may be easier for other countries to hook up to Norway's system, than invent their own.

"We will invite both the Netherlands, the UK and the European Union as a whole to cooperate on this full-scale project," said minister Soviknes.

It is mostly a matter of finance and political will.

Done before

Technologically, there are few obstacles for widescale CCS deployment, said Kari-Lise Rorvik, geologist at Gassnova in a presentation, referring to Statoil, which has captured CO2 for over two decades in offshore gas fields.

"It's technically feasible. It's possible to do this. ... This has been done before and it works," she said.

The Norwegian chemical company Yara is one of the other contenders to hook up to the CCS chain.

The company's ammonia plant – less than ten kilometres away from Norcem – already captures CO2 which it sells, for example to drinks companies.

However, that market is saturated, which is why Yara has no problems with getting rid of excess CO2 for free.

Because while the three interested companies are eager to take part in the pioneering CCS project, they are less willing to pay for it themselves as long as their competitors are not forced to do so as well.

From problem to an industry

Government support is needed, said Pal Mikkelsen, CCS director at waste incinerator Fortum Oslo Varme.

"But we are building a new industry. We are growing from CO2 as a problem to an industry," he said.

Mikkelsen referred to the so-called 'polluter pays principle', but in a slightly different fashion.

Not his company is the polluter, but the wasteful consumers are.

"You are the problem. In my business, you are the problem. You choose to buy cheap goods. You choose to throw that goods away. You choose to buy new clothes, because it's the new spring collection," he said.

"Every time you make that decision, it ends up here, and somebody [has] got to fix the problem. And you have to pay the price. Either you pay the price, or your grandchildren pay the price," he noted.

Household waste in Oslo's incinerator (Photo: Peter Teffer)

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