European industry injects CO2 Below the seabed as it chases US in energy, climate race

Source: iStock

European industrial companies injected carbon dioxide below Denmark’s seabed for the first time on Wednesday as executives warned that the region risks losing a race with the US on the important emissions-cutting technology.

CO2 was pumped more than a mile below a North Sea oil field to be stored permanently, safely away from the atmosphere. If the project is successful, the companies involved — including UK’s INEOS Group Holdings and Germany’s Wintershall Dea AG — plan to scale it up to receive and store emissions captured at sites across Europe. 

Carbon, capture and storage, known as CCS, is a potentially critical technology for eliminating CO2 from industrial processes that are difficult or currently impossible to decarbonize through electrification. Without it, European industries face rising carbon costs alongside higher energy prices. That threatens the competitiveness of industries that could move to the US, where energy is cheaper and President Joe Biden’s climate bill, The Inflation Reduction Act, provides generous subsidies for carbon capture and storage.

“There’s a lot more to be done inside Europe,” said Brian Gilvary, chairman of Ineos Energy. “The United States, now with the Inflation Reduction Act, is going to suck in investment into CCS at scale.”

Companies are already under immense pressure in Europe because of the soaring price of natural gas following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Some firms, including Wintershall Dea’s majority shareholder BASF SE, are permanently cutting back on operations in Europe as a result. That may only accelerate if European governments don’t stimulate a solution for accelerating carbon costs.

“Europe needs to definitely speed up,” said Mario Mehren, chief executive officer of Wintershall Dea. “If you take an investment decision today for a chemical plant, energy prices are cheaper in the US. You have a solution for CO2 in place, you have the regulatory framework in place. So there are very few arguments for investment in Europe.”

The project off the west coast of Denmark, known as Project Greensand, is storing CO2 that’s brought in by ship from Belgium. Using an existing oil platform, the CO2 is injected in liquid form about 2 kilometers below the seabed. Over time, it reacts with the rock and mineralizes, storing it permanently in a solid form. 

In its current test phase, Greensand will store about 15,000 tons of CO2 as the operators monitor it to ensure the technology works as expected. The companies aim to make a final investment decision on scaling it up to the next phase, which would allow storage of 1.5 million tons, within about 18 months. 

While carbon capture has been used extensively by the oil and gas industry to enhance production, storing CO2 below the sea has only been tried in a handful of small pilots and so is relatively untested. But that could quickly change. Already, Norway is building a similar storage site for emissions from a cement plant and a waste-to-energy facility. Denmark has earmarked €1.1 billion for carbon capture and storage technology, with billions more promised in the Netherlands and the UK.

The North Sea, which once provided Europe with abundant oil and gas, could provide ample space to store its emissions in the future. The CO2 storage capacity in the North Sea is well over 200 billion tons, according to BloombergNEF. That’s more than 20 times the total emissions from industry globally last year, more than enough to store just Europe’s CO2 output for decades to come. 

“This is a big moment for Europe’s green transition, and for our clean tech industry,” said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission. “That we can grow our industry through innovation and competition, and at the same time, remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere, through ingenuity and cooperation. This is what Europe’s competitive sustainability is all about.”

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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