The contractors have already started dynamiting the steep rocky fjord side to make way for tanks which will in three years start receiving the world’s first deliveries of industrial CO2 emissions for storage beneath the North Sea.
“Last week, we formally had the first blast,” says Sverre Johannesen Overå, project director for the Northern Lights CO2 transport and storage project, showing a blurry view of the site from a webcam.
“It’s raining today, you can see a barge with a crane doing dredging, and this rocky hill, here, that’s where the plant is going to be.”
In mid-December, Norway’s parliament voted to spend 16.8bn kroner (£1.5bn) on Longship, calling it “the largest-ever climate project in Norwegian industry”. This covers more than two-thirds of the total cost of developing and operating carbon capture at two industrial plants, as well as transport and storage of the CO2.
Northern Lights project, a partnership between Equinor, Norway’s majority state-owned energy company, Royal Dutch Shell, and the French oil major Total, is responsible for the transportation and storage side.
When it is fully up-and-running, the project’s facility outside the city of Bergen is expected to take shiploads of CO2 from as far south as the north of Spain and as far east as Helsinki.
“I think it’s a game-changer,” Mr Overå says. “What we are doing is essentially establishing a new business, the business of managing other people’s emissions in a safe way and storing it, and that hasn’t been done before. All of a sudden, you open the opportunity for the hard-to-decarbonise industries to clean up their emissions.”
The steelmaker ArcelorMittal, the French industrial gases company Air Liquide, HeidelbergCement, and Sweden’s Preem refining group are four of the big multinationals who plan to export CO2 to Norway from their European plants.
HeidelbergCement’s Brevik plant, outside Oslo, will be the first anchor customer, with the Norwegian government paying about 80pc of the 3.3bn kroner (£280m) cost of installing carbon capture over the next three years.
Norway’s government has agreed to invest a similar amount in installing carbon capture at Fortum Oslo Värme, a waste incinerator and district heating plant, but this is conditional on Fortum, the Finnish owner, winning 3bn kroner in funding from the European Innovation Fund. The fund is due to announce its first shortlist of projects in the first three months of this year.
If both the HeidelbergCement and the Fortum projects go ahead they will together capture 800,000 tonnes of carbon a year, equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of 400,000 cars or 3.5m return flights between London and Oslo.
But for Mr Overå the focus is already on selling space in the second, commercial phase, when storage capacity will rise to 5m tonnes of CO2 per year.
He says the interest from potential customers is enormous.
“Initially, we had to track down potential users, but gradually, over the last year and a half, that has completely changed, partly because we, and a few other projects, are demonstrating that there will be storage solutions, but also because of this the political shift with higher climate ambitions in Europe.”
The European Green Deal has helped, as has the €10bn (£9bn) European Innovation Fund, which in November received 14 applications from carbon capture and storage projects.
Mr Overå says Northern Lights is now talking to more than 60 different companies about storing their CO2. It plans to soon release its first draft carbon transport and storage contract, and hopes to sign up the first commercial customers by the end of the year.
It plans to shortly award contracts to build the first two ships, which with 7,500m3 of liquid CO2, will be the largest capacity CO2 carriers ever built.
Learning from its mistakes
Trude Sundset, chief executive of Gassnova, the Norwegian government body tasked with establishing a carbon capture industry in Norway, believes that generous government subsidies were essential.
“Yes, two-thirds of the funding is from the government, and that’s significant. But if you turn it around, for industry to pay one third is also significant,” she says.
Norway’s so-called ‘Moon Landing’, its ill-fated attempt to set up carbon capture at a gas power plant at the Mongstad refinery, which was shelved in 2013, had been 100pc state-funded.
The culmination of 7.4bn kroner of government spending on carbon capture and storage, Mongstad CCS was at the time seen as a catastrophic failure. But Ms Sundset argues that the infrastructure built and experience gained has been crucial for the success of Longship. As part of the project, Norway built the world’s biggest test centre for carbon capture technologies, helping develop the capture technology which is being used by HeidelbergCement.
“We think of these as learning points: Why didn’t it work? What can we learn from it? And then we constructed a new project, which was better,” she says.
From carbon capture to market capture
The key has been to focus on industries for which carbon capture is currently the only feasible way to remove emissions, rather than on power generation, where falling prices for renewables made the technology uncompetitive.
Per Brevik, director of Alternative Fuels and Sustainability at HeidelbergCement in Norway, explains that two-thirds of the carbon emissions from a typical cement plant is released in the chemical reaction when limestone is converted to clinker, which cannot be reduced by using zero- or lower-carbon fuels.
He says HeidelbergCement began to study carbon capture to prepare for a future where it would face competition from greener alternatives such as timber.
“Concrete is an important material, but the weakest point from a sustainability perspective when you compare to other materials is the CO2 coming from the cement,” he said.
The company now has altogether eight ongoing carbon capture and storage projects, several of which aim to export the waste to Northern Lights.
He says that Heidelberg has been “very satisfied” with the level of subsidies it has received.
“Since it’s the first of a kind, they feel that they have to support it very much and not have very tough discussions [about funding], because if they do it might run into the sand.”
Undoing the damage
Part of the reason for the Norwegian government’s willingness to come through with funding, he argues, might be guilt for the emissions released as a result of the country’s oil and gas industry. “I think they feel that they must pay a little bit back from all the income from the oil and gas industry.”
The £1.5bn Norway’s government is lavishing on carbon capture and storage certainly shows up the weak support offered by the UK to its own carbon capture projects, Net Zero Teesside and Zero Carbon Humber, both of which include the three Northern Lights partners.
While construction has already started on Norway’s Longship project, these projects are unlikely to get the commercial go ahead until 2023 at the earliest, even if the UK Government offers financial support.
But Mrs Sundset argues that Longship will only count as a success if the UK, and others, follow suit.
“Norway is not just doing this for Norway. We’re doing this to help Europe to establish carbon capture and storage,” she says. “We won’t have succeeded if we don’t see other projects following us. Because we’re not going to save the planet with Longship alone.”