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Europe celebrates its first repository for carbon dioxide

For Crown Prince Frederik it was a kind of family tradition.

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Europe celebrates its first repository for carbon dioxide

For Crown Prince Frederik it was a kind of family tradition. His father, Prince Henrik, started the Danish offshore oil and gas industry 50 years ago, he said. On Wednesday, the heir to the Danish throne launched the Greensand project at the port of Esbjerg, the world's first cross-border capture and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Crown Prince Frederik started the Nini injection plant 200 kilometers west of the Danish coast. The – liquefied – greenhouse gas is to be safely stored forever 1,800 meters below the sea floor.

Environmental organizations condemn the technology as irresponsible disposal of "hazardous waste", industry and the energy sector are eagerly awaiting the findings on the profitability of the first major international CCS projects. And the climate protection expert council IPCC of the United Nations considers carbon capture and storage (CCS) to be indispensable so that a limitation of the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees since the beginning of industrialization remains feasible at all.

Carbon dioxide can be separated and liquefied from chemicals and from the fossil fuels oil, coal and natural gas using special chemical and thermal processes. So it can be stored underground and withdrawn from the atmosphere.

A consortium led by the German oil and gas group Wintershall Dea and the British chemical company Ineos has set up a transport chain in recent years to store large quantities of CO2 under the sea floor.

Greensand's pilot phase will run for three months. During this time, 15,000 tons of CO2 in tank containers are to be shuttled from an offshore supply ship from the ethylene oxide refinery of Ineos in Antwerp to the feed platform of the Nini field, 800 tons per shipload. The storage site is part of an already depleted oil field.

Denmark is hoping for a lucrative business in the coming decades with the storage of millions of tons of CO2 per year, in competition with other North Sea countries such as Norway and Great Britain in particular, but also the Netherlands.

The Danish government funded the pilot phase of Greensand with 26 million euros, the rest of the funding lies with the other 22 partners in the consortium. How much it will ultimately cost is not yet clear, said Wintershall boss Mario Mehren WELT.

In Germany, underground storage of carbon dioxide is not permitted. Politically, CCS was largely ruled out as an option in Germany 20 years ago, even after protests by citizens' groups in Schleswig-Holstein, for example. For months, however, the traffic light coalition in Berlin has been examining the suitability of CCS for climate protection.

For cross-border transport and storage in another country, the countries involved must conclude bilateral agreements. "I am confident that the German government, which is currently working on legislation for CCS, will legalize the capture, transport and storage of carbon dioxide," says Mehren.

There has been experience with the underground storage of CO2 since the early 1970s. The Global CCS Institute names a number of currently 197 international CCS projects with a commercial background. However, none of them form a complete, cross-border recycling chain like Greensand. Above all, the offshore oil and gas industry uses the underground compression of carbon dioxide to increase the yield from their deposits through targeted pressure. There are also regional CCS projects in the chemical industry.

The Greensand project, however, has greater aspirations. The consortium led by Wintershall and Ineos could store up to eight million tons a year in this area off the Danish coast alone. "The world population is growing by 85 million people every year, which is roughly the population of Germany," says Ineos manager Brian Gilvary. “In the coming decades, more than eight billion people cannot be supplied with renewable energies alone. And in future it will no longer be possible to use fossil fuels without separating carbon dioxide.”

Environmental organizations see it very differently. “CCS is a bogus solution that is neither sustainable nor zero emissions. In addition, the compression of CO2 in the North Sea poses considerable risks,” says Karsten Smid, campaigner for climate and energy at Greenpeace Germany. “Diffuse or sudden leaks from CO2 landfills are likely. Disused oil fields in the North Sea are not a place for disposing of CO2 waste.” In general, environmental organizations such as Greenpeace consider downstream, so-called “end-of-pipe” technologies to be unsuitable for curbing climate change: “The climate problem can only be overcome solve a drastic reduction in emissions at source.”

The Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) assesses CCS more positively: "A general risk assessment for CO2 storage is neither possible nor appropriate, since the risks are site-specific and must be considered and checked in detail at each site as part of the approval process", writes the BGR on WELT request. So far, “no accidents, incidents, incidents with environmental relevance or personal injury have occurred” at the CO2 storage facilities operated worldwide.

How and when CCS will be economical on a large scale depends on political, technological and economic factors: "We need a regulatory framework for the deployment of CCS in the European Union quickly, and we need support mechanisms for carbon capture in industry" , says Wintershall boss Mehren.

The EU Commission calculates an annual feed-in requirement of up to 300 million tons of CO2 in European deposits. The start of the Greensand project is a "big moment for Europe's green transformation," said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a video greeting to Esbjerg. "With the first complete value chain for CCS in Europe, you show that this technology can be realized."

The development of the prices for CO2 in the European emissions trading will influence the spread of CCS. The companies involved hope to reduce the costs of the technology by building their own pipelines in Europe, through which carbon dioxide will be transported directly to the storage sites at sea in the future.

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