First country in the world to bury carbon dioxide imported from abroad, Denmark inaugurated a carbon dioxide storage site 1800 meters under the North Sea, a tool considered essential to stop global warming. “Today we have opened a new green chapter for the North Sea”, celebrated Prince Frederick, when starting the pilot phase of the project in Esbjerg. Paradoxically, this CO2 graveyard is an old oil field that contributed to the emissions.
Led by the British chemical multinational Ineos and the German energy company Wintershall Dea, the “Greensand” project It will allow to store up to eight million tons of CO2 per year until 2030.
Still in its infancy and very expensive, Carbon capture and storage (CCS) consists of capturing and then trapping CO2, the main cause of global warming. There are currently more than 200 projects operating or under development around the world.
What makes Greensand special is that, unlike existing sites that sequester CO2 from neighboring industrial facilities, it uses carbon from afar. “It is a European achievement in terms of cross-border cooperation: CO2 is captured in Belgium and very soon in Germany, loaded by ship in the (Belgian) port of Antwerp,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The gas is transported by sea to the Nini West platform, at the edge of Norwegian waters, and transferred to a reservoir 1.8 km deep.
For the Danish authorities, who aspire to carbon neutrality by 2045, it is an “indispensable instrument in our climate toolbox”.
The North Sea is a region ripe for burial because it is home to many pipelines and geological reservoirs left empty after decades of oil and gas production.. “Depleted oil and gas fields have many advantages because they are well documented and infrastructure already exists that can most likely be reused,” says Morten Jeppesen, director of the Center for Marine Technologies at the Danish University of Technology.
Near Greensand, the French giant TotalEnergies is going to explore the possibility of burying more than two kilometers under the seabed some 5 million tons of CO2 per year until 2030.
A CCS pioneer, neighboring Norway will also receive tons of liquefied CO2 from Europe in the coming years. The main producer of hydrocarbons in Western Europe, the country also has the largest CO2 storage potential on the continent.
there are no miracles
Stockpiled quantities remain small relative to the magnitude of releases. According to the European Environment Agency, the European Union emitted 3.7 billion tons of greenhouse gases in 2020, a low level for being a year affected by the pandemic.
Long perceived as a technically complicated and costly solution, CCS is now seen as necessary, both by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency. But it is not a silver bullet to global warming.
The energy-intensive process of capturing and storing CO2 emits the equivalent of 21% of the gas captured, according to Australian think tank IEEFA. And the technique involves risks, warns the research center, citing the risk of leaks with catastrophic consequences.
“CAC should not be used to maintain the current level of CO2 production, but it is necessary to limit CO2 in the atmosphere,” Jeppsen explained. “The cost of storing carbon needs to be reduced if it is to become a durable mitigation solution as the industry matures,” the scientist added.
Among environmental defenders, the technology does not have unanimous support. “It doesn’t solve the problem and it prolongs the harmful structures,” says Helene Hagel, energy officer at Greenpeace Denmark. “The method does not change our mortal habits. If Denmark really wants to reduce its emissions, it must address the sectors that produce a large part of it, i.e. agriculture and transport“, he assured.