For more than 20 years, the hydrocarbon industry has been chasing the dream of transforming itself into a sustainable industry by capturing CO2, intubating it and storing it underground, possibly reusing it in some industrial process: feasible in theory, but so far financially unsustainable. Most of the plants in operation today work to extract oil from wells that are already in productive decline: carbon dioxide is injected into old wells by increasing the internal pressure and thus managing to make the field profitable again for a few years. Moreover, there are still many uncertainties associated with these installations: by altering the interstitial pressure of the subsurface, there could be consequences on both active and inactive faults, even triggering seismic activity. In short, storing excess carbon dioxide underground is the dream of all industries, but the costs are very high and the risks not yet fully quantified. Even the European Union has identified ‘carbon sequestration’ as one of the possible technologies to mitigate the effects of global warming. Among the companies already active in the sector is the Swiss start-up ‘Climeworks AG’, which has opened the world’s largest plant in Iceland to take CO2 directly from the air and intends to expand further in the future. While the International Energy Agency estimates that 7.6 giga tonnes of CO2 will be captured annually by 2050, of which 95 per cent will be stored, it is perhaps Norway, in Europe, that is the nation furthest ahead in experimenting with the new frontier of carbon dioxide capture, with two experiments pointing the way to the economic viability of the process. Oslo is trying again, thanks to the enormous resources generated by its sovereign fund: Norway had previously focused on developing a system for capturing and storing CO2, but it was then shelved due to costs that were much higher than expected. This time the approach is different: the capture technology is focusing on industrial applications, in sectors such as cement, glass or fertilisers that emit large quantities of carbon dioxide during production processes. The innovative idea is to create a carbon capture value chain, bringing together all the actors in the supply chain under the supervision of the state administration. There are two pilot experiments: the storage of emissions from the Oslo waste-to-energy plant and a fertiliser production plant in the north of the country; their transport by pipeline to the port of Bergen; their subsequent transhipment by ship and, finally, the actual sequestration in the North Sea, three kilometres below the seabed. The method may take a long time to become profitable, but it is to all intents and purposes the first commercial use, in the form of a service, of carbon sequestration technologies.
Bergen, Climate, Economics, Energy, Environment, Iceland, Norway, Oil & Gas, Oslo, Science, Technology