Project Greensand captures carbon in Belgium and injects it into the seabed under the Danish North Sea [Mikkel Lotzfedlt / INEOS Energy]
The opening marks an important moment for the EU’s green transition and industrial competitiveness, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who spoke at the inauguration on Wednesday (8 March).
Project Greensand is the first venture to achieve cross-border carbon capture and storage (CCS), by shipping CO2 from Belgium and injecting it into a depleted oil field under the Danish North Sea.
With the first injection taking place on Wednesday, the project aims to safely and permanently store up to eight million tonnes of CO2 every year by 2030, the equivalent of 40% of Denmark’s emission reduction target and over 10% of the country’s annual emissions.
“This is what Europe’s competitive sustainability is all about,” von der Leyen said in a video address at the inaugural event in Denmark.
“You are showing that it can be done – 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,” she added.
The project marks a breakthrough in carbon capture, taking CO2 from one country and injecting it into another, said Brian Gilvary from INEOS energy, one of 23 organisations that run Project Greensand alongside other businesses, academia, governments and start-ups.
According to Gilvary, the energy transition will require carbon capture and storage “as a bedrock” to reach the world’s climate goals. “It is impossible for industry or for the planet to get [to net zero by 2050] without carbon capture. So it’s absolutely part and parcel of what we do going forward,” he said.
The event is significant for Europe’s decarbonisation goals, said the Clean Air Task Force, an NGO who spoke to EURACTIV at the inauguration event in Denmark.
“The kickoff cements the rapid progress Denmark has made in advancing carbon capture and storage projects and will play a critical role in showcasing the benefits of coordinated efforts to tackle industrial decarbonisation in Europe,” said Alessia Virone, EU affairs director at Clean Air Task Force.
Growing appetite for CCS
Europe is increasingly looking to carbon capture and storage technologies as a way to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This will mean that any emissions put into the atmosphere will have to be countered by an equivalent removal.
“The science is clear. Industrial carbon removal is a necessary part of our climate toolbox,” said von der Leyen, who called Project Greensand a “significant step towards European carbon neutrality”.
According to European Commission estimates, the EU will need to store at least 300 million tonnes of CO2 every year by 2050 to reach its net-zero climate objective.
“There is, my friends, no chance in hell that we will meet the global climate targets without CO2 storage,” said Lars Aagaard, the Danish minister for climate, energy and utilities, who spoke at the conference.
At EU level, funding for CCS projects has started flowing again, after several years of hiatus following a first series of failed projects. Under the EU’s Innovation Fund, 24 industrial decarbonisation projects have already been awarded €2.8 billion.
Carbon capture projects are also likely to see more support under the European Commission’s upcoming Net-Zero Industry Act, due on 14 March. A leaked draft of the bill, seen by EURACTIV, includes CCS projects in a list of “strategic technologies” that can apply for special status to get quicker permitting and easier access to finance.
“We have started a mission to secure Europe’s industrial edge, create good and meaningful jobs and fix our planet. Carbon removal is part of this mission,” von der Leyen said on Wednesday.
The European Commission also plans to publish a strategy on carbon capture, use and storage later this year.
Cutting the red tape
The North Sea, which has a lot of depleted oil and gas wells, is expected to be a hub for carbon capture and storage, with similar ventures to Project Greensand already underway in Norway.
“It shows once again that the North Sea is increasingly playing a crucial role in Europe’s net zero future,” said von der Leyen.
But the EU will need considerably more carbon storage capacity if it wants to reach its goal of at least 300 million tonnes of CO2 stored per year by mid-century.
According to Gilvary, the 16 European projects, currently at various stages of development, only make up around a fifth of what is needed.
The EU now needs to build up a value chain that connects emitters, including landlocked factories, via pipelines and ships, said Hugo Dijkgraaf from Wintershall Dea. This will enable emitters to channel captured CO2 to multiple storage sites, ensuring there is enough flexibility in the system in case one is unavailable, he explained.
Cross-border transport could be a key part of this, taking carbon from industry-heavy countries, like Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, for storage in countries with a high potential for storing it, like Denmark.
However, this relies on regulatory support for the export and storage of CO2, something that industry and emissions intensive Germany lacks.
“I hope that the biggest emitter in Europe, a country called Germany, will also take responsibility and create a legal framework that allows for using these kinds of technologies and start to have these bilateral agreements,” said Mehren.
“We Germans might be slow, but we are not stupid,” he added, saying that he hopes Berlin will soon approve the transport and export of CO2, although storing on German territory may take longer.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]