During the European Commission’s Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) Forum in Aalborg, Denmark held in November, five member states signed an agreement essentially clinching the technology’s role in the energy transition and the European Union’s decarbonization strategy. The Aalborg Declaration, signed by Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, and Germany, will enable the scaling up and wider usage of CCS throughout Europe, however questions remain about which industries it will be applied upon. But lead blogger Michael Buchsbaum, recipient of a Journalism Fund EU grant to report on Europe’s CCS buildout, reminds that most CCS operations worldwide use the carbon they capture to produce more oil.
Buildout of CCS infrastructure on EU’s priority list
Rapidly building out carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, alongside expanding renewable energy sources is now seen as key for the European Union’s long-term emission reduction goals.
CCS entails capturing a portion of the carbon dioxide being emitted at an industrial source – such as an oil or fossil gas refinery, petrochemical plant or electrical generation station and then transporting it away and storing it.
Though the European Commission’s strategy for how CCS will be developed is still in the making, it is expected to be published in early 2024 ahead of elections.
However, in early 2023, under the Net Zero Industry Act (NZIA), the EU set a target for the oil and gas industry to develop at least 50 million tons of CO2 storage capacity by 2030 – up from barely any at the start of 2023. This includes the controversial Article 18 which seeks to solidify the responsibility of authorised oil and gas producers to contribute to CCUS deployment which many oil and gas companies and organizations are fiercely lobbying against.
Europe needs CCUS in order to meet its climate targets, align with the Paris Agreement, and achieve the expected 55% reduction in emissions by 2030.
However, of the nearly three dozen commercial CCS facilities operating worldwide which have the combined capacity to capture approximately 45 million metric tons of CO2, almost 80 percent use their captured CO2 to produce more oil.
Beginning in the 1970s, oil companies have been injecting CO2 into already tapped otherwise “depleted” reservoirs, generally displacing between three and five additional barrels for every ton of CO2 used.
Climate or greenwashing tool?
Despite the necessity to phase out fossil fuels, the fact that existing carbon capture projects are predominantly used to bring more oil to the surface has not stopped the technology from being championed as a climate solution.
At the CCUS Forum in Aalborg, the European Commission’s Energy Commissioner, Kadri Simson, provided insight into the upcoming strategic considerations on CCUS by publishing a map of the capture and storage potential across the EU. The map includes both possible locations for new infrastructure and the already ongoing expansion of the existing one.
Though many see the gas and oil industry as a large part of the climate problem, by adopting CCS as a decarbonization tool, the EU is demanding they also become part of the solution.
Convinced that this is “an opportunity” for oil and gas producers in the EU, Simson believes that they could be encouraged through subsidies to lend a helping hand in reaching the 2030 target by “using their experience and knowledge and embracing the opportunity to create a new market.”
At the Forum, Simson also disclosed that a new list of projects of common interest (PCI) and mutual interest would encompass 14 CO2 transport and storage projects. This indicates that the development of a CO2 infrastructure network, running from the North Sea to the Mediterranean to the Baltics, is becoming “a European priority,” said Simson.
“We already have three CCUS projects that receive financing from the Innovation Fund. Based on this year’s record €3 billion call for the Innovation Fund, we have invited an additional 11 large-scale CCS and CCU projects to negotiate grant agreements,” outlined Simson. The EU is also supporting the development of CCS infrastructure by adding six cross-border CO2 networks to their PCI list.
Declaring the new era of CCS
During th late November forum, five major European countries (Denmark, Germany, France, Netherlands and Sweden) signed the Aalborg Declaration calling for the development of a European market for CCS and enshrining the technology as a necessary climate tool.
CCS is “absolutely essential for the green transition,” said Lars Aagaard, Denmark’s Minister for Climate, Energy and Utilities. The Declaration “shows that there is a European will, both among us decision-makers and among the industry” to create a European market for it.
Aside from enabling closer European cooperation on CCS, at the Forum, the European Commission revealed that two other Danish CCS projects – Norne and Bifrost – had also been designated as PCIs.
“Things are moving fast in Denmark,” added Aagaard. “Because we have gradually sharpened all the edges – and because we have an industry that wants to contribute to the development of large-scale CO2 capture, usage, and storage. We are working to make this a European reality,” he said.
Denmark’s government has already allocated over €41 million for two CCS projects, which will use the existing oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea. Denmark’s efforts also align with its ambitious plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030.
Vast pipeline buildout expected: but does society know?
In Aalborg, Simson also disclosed plans for a comprehensive CO2 infrastructure network spanning the North Sea to the Mediterranean to the Baltics.
For the hundreds of assembled guests and those following online, the European Commission Science, Research & Innovation organization also offered a vision of its preliminary study on CO2 pipeline and transport networks, which are estimated to span more than 19,000 kilometers (~11,800 miles) by 2050.
The EC study also revealed this network will transport some 250 mega tonnes of carbon dioxide per year to capture, transport and store a total of 2.75 Giga tonnes of CO2.
The network will cross through 20 countries where emissions will be captured and 13 member states which may provide permanent CO2 storage.
But many, including Dr Moisés Covarrubias, a CCS and Decarbonisation Policy researcher at the C4U Project, question if the public is aware of how impactful this technology may be.
Though the EC has done extensive public consultations as part of developing their expected strategy, Covarrubias claims that “social considerations have been almost non-existent.” Instead, the main focus has been on how public awareness could be increased to encourage greater societal acceptance of the technology – that is, to encourage society to accept these technologies, “when decisions around them have already been made.”
“The implementation of CCS – a radical, and admittedly controversial climate mitigation technology – should be a discussion involving everyone,” he published in a recent Opinion-Editorial.
This is especially important because there are few established markets for captured CO2 outside of EOR, meaning getting CCS off the ground in Europe may require vast, long-term subsidies.