Norway is shifting the emphasis of its government-championed carbon capture and storage efforts from cleaning up greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector to cleaning up emissions from industry and waste.
The move is globally significant because up to now almost all CCS projects around the world, including in Canada, have concentrated on capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the chimneys of coal-fired plans, not industrial processes.
The Scandinavian government announced this week that it will invest 360 million crowns (CDN$60 million) in its 2017 budget to study how to capture carbon from the country’s only cement producer, from the world’s largest ammonia plant run by the fertilizer maker Yara, and from Oslo’s waste incinerator. Depending on the results, up to three full-scale CCS-for-industry projects could be up and running by 2022, at a cost of billions of dollars.
The investment builds on Norway’s existing carbon capture research platforms, including the more common focus of scrubbing coal- and gas-fired electricity production of CO2 and burying it deep below the North Sea. Since 2007 the Norway government has officially aimed to become the world’s leading CCS developer, with the then prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, said it would his country’s ‘moon landing’.
However, CCS is an expensive proposition, with very little in the way of saleable product at the end of the process that can offset its costs. Some 97 percent of Norway’s electricity production is already clean, mostly coming from hydroelectric with a bit of wind, so the country’s hope for the technology was to help the rest of the continent decarbonize its power sector, not its own. But, the European Union’s enthusiasm for CCS has fizzled out in recent years while the price of carbon is still far too low to make CCS attractive.
The Bellona Institute, a Norwegian environmental think-tank and author of a report upon which the government’s strategy is based, said that the government shifting its CCS focus from power production to industry will help the technology out of its doldrums and improve chances of accessing EU innovation funding.
Emissions from many industrial sectors come not only from the fossil fuel combustion to deliver the energy needed for production. GHGs are also, and in some cases even more of, a result of the chemical reactions within the production process itself. And unlike clean energy, many of these processes have no clean and off-the-shelf alternative solution ready to be applied, which makes CCS the only known way so far to deeply decarbonize these sectors.
Saskatchewan remains home to the world’s only commercial-scale CCS operation, but the project at Boundary Dam is functioning far below predicted levels, causing embarrassment for the government. On the other hand, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley had promised on the campaign trail that she would redirect the previous administration’s $2 billion carbon capture fund, but in government has since continued to back CCS projects. And most recently, the BC government announced its support for the use of CCS in the natural gas sector.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.