Insight

CCS: A Hidden Gem for Mitigating Climate Change

It is gratifying to see that 20 years of research carried out by myself and my colleagues at NORCE, together with our national and international research partners, has contributed to a technology that is now officially part of the green shift in Norway. It has been a slow and deliberate march for carbon capture and storage, or CCS as it’s called for short, to become a sustainable solution to the climate crisis.

Sist oppdatert: Sep 22, 2020
Published Sep 22, 2020
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Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a necessary climate measure, and will be a large part of the Norwegian climate solution. The government calls the initiative "Longship".

How is that? CCS is an industrial technology that uses science and engineering to remove CO2 molecules from flue gas and industrial processes before they reach the atmosphere and bury them deep underground, thus protecting Earth from the coming ravages of climate change. In addition to wind turbines and electric cars, CO2 capture and storage has the potential to protect and create jobs right here in Norway, by allowing industry with few good climate-friendly alternatives to keep operating, and thus keep people employed, under increasingly stringent and necessary climate restrictions.

Carbon storage: is it fail-safe?

Burying CO2 gas underground sounds like a fantasy. Won't it explode or leak back to surface? The short answer is no. But that hasn't stopped us researchers from poking and prodding to make sure that CO2 storage is foolproof. The result is that oil companies involved in CO2 storage now have reliable and cost-effective ways to keep track of injected CO2 buried deep underground. It is good to have reassurance. But keep in mind that after decades of research in Norway and around the world, with hundreds of research articles published every year, we have found that it is basically impossible for CO2 to escape in any extent that would remotely approach catastrophic, and at least very hard for CO2 to escape slowly through kilometers of nearly solid rock in even tiny amounts.

Helping Mother Earth return carbon to its natural state

Still. It’s hard to imagine how an enormous gas bubble the size of Bergen city-center can be buried in the earth quite so easily. How does it work? Quite simply, we can take advantage of a few critical things: first, the natural way the earth under the North Sea is divided up like a layer cake that has trapped oil and gas for 100s of millions year, and how billions of microscopic holes in these rocks can suck up CO2 gas like a sponge and lock it into tiny bubbles, and the natural way CO2 dissolves rapidly into water and turns itself into stone over time. We take advantage of everything nature gave us to return the CO2 to a safe and completely natural state. In fact, CCS mimics the natural carbon cycle that slowly takes up atmospheric CO2 into oceans and forests over hundreds of years. We just don’t have time to wait for Mother Earth. Instead, we can use well-established engineering and smart people to get the natural process to happen in a few decades, fast enough to help save the climate.

CCS is quiet but effective

It is worth saying that CCS is not a flashy climate solution. For the new “Longship” project, a full scale carbon capture and storage project supported by the Norwegian government, there will be relatively small installations on an existing cement factory and eventually a waste incineration plant to capture the CO2 from flue gasses. There will be ships full of chilled CO2 that slip quietly along the Norwegian coastline to Kollsnes outside of Bergen. And an onshore terminal, including a dock and storage tanks, that will scarcely take more space than a football pitch. And finally, there is a pipeline that disappears underwater, runs along the sea bottom, and shuttles the CO2 into its 2.7-km deep underground grave. If Sweden decides to come on board, or when northern Europe catches on, there will be more ships, certainly, and maybe a second pipeline or three, but the scale up of a new CO2 business will go unnoticed to most of us. This means that 10 or even a 100 million of tons of CO2 every year, equivalent to 80,000 windmills, can be returned to its natural state with nary a scratch on pristine nature. Take note.

Longship CCS project is just the beginning

So, while we celebrate the decision from Erna Solberg and her government to set the wheels in motion for full-scale CCS, CO2 researchers at NORCE are already beginning to think of what comes next. We have seen the projections which points to a fast-approaching shift to industrial decarbonization. We need to be prepared for the next wave of CCS projects and the demand it will create for numerous safe storage options. Researchers at NORCE are partnering with Equinor to explore the geologic neighborhood of the first projects in the North Sea for ways to grow a new profitable CO2 storage industry that is cost-competitive and low risk. Most importantly, research can help prepare society for a green CCS industry by helping people recognize that carbon capture and storage can be a solution that uses homegrown talent and ingenuity to not only save the planet, but also keep Norwegian jobs from disappearing today and create thousands of new jobs for tomorrow.

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16. Apr 2020

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