By Marcus George on Sep 4, 2020
It is a long and complex journey from Camilla Lorentzen’s kitchen bins in a leafy suburb of Oslo to a site 2,500 metres below the sea floor off the west coast of Norway.
But that is where the carbon content of some of Camilla’s household rubbish could end up under plans for an ambitious new project.
The project will initially capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial sites in Eastern Norway. Plans are to transport it by ship to a plant on Norway’s west coast, and then send it 110 kilometres by pipeline to be safely and permanently stored deep below the sea.
Camilla believes the carbon capture project is vital to help protect the environment.
“We have to think about the next generation, not ourselves,” she says. “We humans have already damaged the environment, so we have to invest in ways to protect it.”
The CO2 transport and storage part of the project – called Northern Lights – is a partnership between Shell, Norwegian energy company Equinor and the French company Total, with backing from the Norwegian government.
State funding is subject to approval from the Norwegian parliament. If approved, it will include the development of carbon capture technology at a cement factory to provide the initial carbon for storage. It will also fund carbon capture at a plant in Oslo that converts waste to energy, where Camilla’s rubbish goes, as long as the plant secures further financial support.
Northern Lights is part of Norway’s full-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) project. Significantly, it aims to become the first carbon storage facility with capacity to transport and store CO2 from industrial facilities in Norway and potentially from across Europe. It also uses shipping for the first time as a way of widening access to a carbon storage market.
In its first phase, expected to start operations by 2024, Northern Lights will transport and store up to 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year. That could increase to 5 million tonnes a year as demand grows.
Wide use of CCS is essential to achieving the aim of the Paris Agreement on climate change to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
And for industries that depend on carbon-intensive processes, such as cement and steel, CCS technologies could be the best way to tackle emissions.
Waste to Energy
Like most Norwegians, Camilla has three colour-coded waste bins at home. Green is for organic waste, blue is for plastics and white is for everything else – what she calls the “lazy” bin. In addition the family sorts paper, glass and metals for recycling. “When I’m really busy, I put more things in the lazy bin than I should,” she says.
The municipality collects waste once a week, transporting it across the city to the Oslo Fortum Varme waste to energy plant, a partnership between the municipality and energy company Fortum.
Optical sensors are used to separate the colour-coded rubbish bags as they zip along conveyor belts. Organic waste is turned into bio-fertiliser for agricultural use and biogas to power buses and waste collection trucks. Plastics are shipped to Finland and Germany for recycling.
Waste that cannot be reused or recycled is incinerated, generating electricity and feeding heat into a district heating system for large parts of the city. Incineration cuts the waste going to landfill sites, which generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas. And Norway has had landfill ban for more than a decade.
But incinerating waste at the plant produces more than 400,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year and the plant’s owners see carbon capture as a way to radically reduce their emissions.
“We take an environmental approach and encourage reuse and recycling of as much material as possible. But there is quite a lot of waste that isn’t possible to recycle,” says Jannicke Bjerkas, the director of CO2 capture and storage at Fortum Oslo Varme.
“Our goal is to capture the emissions from waste incineration and put the carbon back where it came from, deep into the seabed in the North Sea.”
Other sources of emissions for Northern Lights will be heavy industry from across Europe.
It will not be easy to develop the logistics to transport and store carbon emissions from a range of industrial sources. But so far the project is attracting strong interest from industry with a combined 45 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. Several industrial emitters have signed a memorandum of understanding to explore carbon storage through the Northern Lights project.
“Northern Lights confronts the argument that heavy industry can’t deal with its carbon,” says Syrie Crouch, Shell’s vice president for carbon capture and storage.
“Above all, the positive response shows us that industry in Europe recognises it needs a solution and that is what we are looking to create.”
The Northern Lights project has huge potential, she says.
“Northern Lights is the first CCS project that focuses on shipping and that’s critical. If we can develop a viable solution to ship CO2, we can transport it from pretty much anywhere to carbon sinks in the North Sea, providing Europe with an additional way to decarbonise.”
Carbon capture and storage and Shell
Northern Lights was recently awarded the ONS Innovation Award 2020, in recognition of Shell, Total and Equinor’s joint effort to create value from existing industries while contributing to solve the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a large scale.
Shell is helping to develop other large-scale CCS projects and has research partnerships with industry and leading academic institutes to advance the technology.
These include the Gorgon liquefied natural gas project (in which Shell has a 25% share) which has the world's largest CCS operation. It is expected that 100 million tonnes of CO2 will be captured over the life of the project.
Shell operates Quest, a fully integrated CCS facility, designed to capture, transport and store more than a million tonnes of CO2 annually deep underground. Since starting operations Quest has captured and safely stored 5 million tonnes of CO2. Quest is operated by Shell on behalf of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project. Funding from the governments of Alberta and Canada made it possible.
Shell’s Cansolv CCS technology is now in use at the Boundary Dam power station in Saskatchewan, Canada. Boundary Dam is SaskPower’s largest coal-fired power station and a significant source of power for the region.