Norway’s romantically named Longship CCS project
The Norwegian government announced in September 2020 that it would launch a Carbon Capture and Storage project (CCS) called the Longship. The CO₂ storage part is called the Northern Lights project. A carbon capture installation will be built at a cement factory in Porsgrunn in Norway. The captured CO₂ will be transported by tankers to a terminal on the west coast of Norway. A pipeline will transport the CO₂ out into the North Sea. There, the CO₂ will be pumped down into a geological formation deep under the sea floor. The intention is that the CO₂ will then be kept out of the atmosphere, and will not contribute to dangerous global warming and climate change.
The then Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, famously declared in 2007 that a Norwegian CCS project was going to be Norway’s equivalent to the moon landing. The first attempt, the Mongstad CCS project, was called off by the outgoing government of Mr. Stoltenberg on its last day in office in 2013. The reason given was that the carbon capture plant was going to be too expensive. It would therefore not contribute to a lower unit cost for carbon capture plants generally. This was important if CCS were to grow and become a real solution for reducing CO₂ emissions. The newspapers concluded that the moon landing had crashed. When the new project was launched in 2020, one headline was predictably: “To the Moon in a Longship”.
The cost per unit stored underground is also important in 2021. The cost per tonne of CO₂ captured from the cement factory alone will be 104 euro (see Lundberg, Acid News December 2020). To that, you must add transportation and storage costs. For comparison, the price for CO₂ emissions in the ETS is currently around 40 euro/tonne. (EMBER 270421). The Longship project does not seem to bring down the cost of CCS to a level that makes it competitive in the market. It will need massive government subsidies, during both the construction phase and the operational phase.
The real long-term cost of the storage facility may also increase. The cost per tonne of CO₂ stored will be lower the more it can store. The storage capacity may be smaller than anticipated, and this will drive the cost up. An increasing volume of CO₂ from foreign commercial customers will also lower the unit cost. But foreign customers are facing legal and economic barriers. An international convention has been amended to allow for the export of CO₂ across international borders. However, this amendment has not yet been ratified by the signatories of the convention. There is also a great deal of uncertainty about the willingness of foreign governments to subsidise the export of CO₂ from their countries to the CO₂ storage facility.
Even if the problems listed above are somehow resolved, it is difficult to say with absolute certainty that the Northern Lights storage will provide really safe storage for thousands of years. The owners will of course maintain that the storage is safe, and will argue that it will be monitored closely. The proof will be if no leaks can be detected. However, there is a saying that “Absence of proof does not equal proof of absence”. In other words, the detection methods may just not be good enough to detect the very small leaks of CO₂ that could compromise the safety of the storage. In order for storage to be safe, it must contain the CO₂ for 10,000 years with a yearly leakage rate of less than 0.01 per cent from the total amount of stored CO₂. It is hard to imagine a monitoring technology sensitive enough to detect such low leakage rates. If the CO₂ from the storage enters the atmosphere though faults in the rock above, the storage is not safe. Previous studies of the existing CO₂ storage at the Sleipner CCS project in the North Sea show the potential for significant leaks. Numerous faults and natural holes in the overlaying rock layers may lead to considerable leaks. This is not unusual in North Sea geological formations. The conclusion is that leakage is a huge risk connected with underground storage of CO₂, a risk that may compromise the safety of the storage.