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Norway opens carbon-capture test facility

Posted on behalf of Leigh Phillips

After years of repeated delays and cost over-runs, the Norwegian government yesterday finally opened the world’s largest carbon capture and storage (CCS) test facility, where the climate-change mitigation technology will be trialled. (Scientific American)

The Technology Centre Mongstad (TCM), Norway’s flagship CCS enterprise, was unveiled on Monday 7 May before an audience that included the country’s prime minister, the European Union’s energy commissioner and the head of the International Energy Agency.

The 5.8 billion kroner (US$1 billion) TCM, a joint venture between the Norwegian state, domestic energy firm Statoil, and oil giants Shell and Sasol, comprises two CO2 capture plants able to scrub 80,000 tonnes of the gas from a nearby oil refinery and 20,000 tonnes from a gas power plant.

The centre focuses on two post-combustion carbon-capture techniques, one using ammonia to trap CO2, the other using an amine chemical. Both remove 85-95 percent of the CO2 contained in the flue gas after combustion of the fossil fuel.

Post-combustion CCS technology is well understood, although not at the scale of a commercial scale power station, so the project’s main objectives are to test performance data, track costs and to increase the technical know-how regarding operation of an industrial-scale plant.

However, the centre will only be performing the capture part of CCS and none of the storing. All CO2 removed over the course of trials will be later released. And the TCM tests are dwarfed by the scale of emissions by the Mongstad refinery, which are annually ten times the 100,000 tonnes the centre will capture.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg described the TCM, which had originally been announced in 2006 for a planned 2010 launch, as the “most advanced laboratory” for CCS. After the demonstration stage, full-scale carbon capture was scheduled to be online by the end of 2014. However, the deadline for the launch of the second stage was subsequently delayed to 2018, and now may only arrive in 2020, pending a government investment decision in 2016.

At the launch ceremony, Norway’s energy minister, Ola Borten Moe, said that carbon prices would have to climb significantly before the government could sign off on fresh cash to implement full-scale CCS facilities. The EU’s flagship climate policy, the Emissions Trading Scheme, is currently burdened with carbon permit prices of under €7 per tonne of CO2 – far below the price that would encourage the private sector to invest in carbon reduction technologies.

At the time of the announcement of the TCM, CCS had been touted in Europe as something of a climate policy silver bullet, in effect allowing power companies and industry to continue emitting greenhouse gasses safe in the knowledge that they could be securely stored in underground geological formations or depleted natural gas fields.

But few countries have embraced the expensive technology and many such projects in Europe have been mothballed due to funding concerns. Last month, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg admitted that the cost of carbon capture had “unfortunately become much higher”. (see “Slow progress to cleaner coal”  and “Political doubt hinders carbon sequestration projects”)

In November 2011, the CEO Oeyvind Eriksen of Aker Solutions, the engineering firm behind one of the two CCS processes employed at the TCM, said of CSS: “The market is dead.”


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