CCS no more in Norway

Carbon Capture and Storage in Norway still belongs in fiction. Photo: Flickr.com/ chrisspurgeon/CC BY

A full-scale CCS plant would be too expensive, that is the explanation given as Norway abandons its originally ambitious plans for the technology.

“Norway’s moon landing has crashed – Mongstad CCS dropped” - this was the headline in Norwegian newspapers and media around 20 January 2014. The headline referred to a speech on TV 1 in January 2007 by the then Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Talking about the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project at Mongstad in Norway he said: “This is the big project for our country. It is our moon landing.” The CCS plant at Mongstad was going to separate one million tons of CO2 from the exhaust gases of a gas-fired power station. The CO2 would then either be used for increased oil production or stored underground for hundreds of thousands of years. In August 2013, his government decided to abandon the project.

On 20 January this year, former Prime Minister Stoltenberg appeared at a public hearing about the project in the Norwegian Parliament. Why did his government stop the Mongstad CCS project before it resigned in 2013? What had the project achieved since 2006 at a cost of 870 million euro? These were the questions directed at Mr. Stoltenberg by the members of Parliament. He explained that a full-scale CCS plant, including a pipeline for transporting the CO2 and storing it underground, would cost around three billion euro. The high cost of a full-scale CCS plant was the reason for stopping the project. The technological difficulties of building a CCS plant linked to an existing gas-fired power station had proved to be greater than expected. Building the plant at Mongstad would not lead to a cost reduction for the technology, which was a central aim of the project. The high cost would not inspire others to build CCS plants, which was another goal. The test facility built at Mongstad for CCS linked to gas-fired power stations was the real achievement, according to Mr. Stoltenberg. 

Experts and representatives from government research organisations and government directorates mostly supported the government’s decision to stop the project based on the estimated high cost.

The Norwegian environmental foundations Bellona and Zero argued that the government could have chosen to build a full-scale CCS plant based on amine technology, without testing different technologies first. Amines are the term used for a number of related compounds commonly used in chemical plants, refineries and other industrial activities to remove among other substances carbon dioxide (CO2) from gases. The amine solution is used as solvent, which absorbs the CO2 from the gas. The amine solvent is regenerated by removing the CO2, and the amine solvent is then reused. Norway would then have had a full-scale CCS plant up and running by now, even if it would have to rectify eventual problems while running the plant. Bellona and Zero also argued that the cost estimate was too high.

The experts did not support the view that the plant could have been built with amine technology without testing first. However, several experts were also critical of the cost estimate for a full-scale CCS plant. Several thought it was of poor quality, and probably too high.

In defence of the decision, several participants pointed out that no other CCS plants had been built in Europe in the same period. Between 10 and 12 demonstration plants supported by the European Union were supposed to be running by 2015. Of these, none have been built so far.

The present minister for oil and energy, Mr. Tord Lien, was also questioned. His government, which took over from Mr. Stoltenberg after the elections in 2013, had not shelved the plan to build a full-scale CCS plant for good. He promised to present a report on a follow-up study of the Mongstad project in June 2014. Whether this report will contain plans for another CCS project in Norway, or outside Norway, remains to be seen. One guess is that no Norwegian politicians will risk their necks in the future by making statements about “moon landings” and CCS.

Tore Braend , Norweigan energy and climate policy expert

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