Can CO2 storage save the climate?
According to experts, large-scale CO2 storage will provide a solution in the short term. But storage is a bit of a misleading term, according to Saeys. “It’s not like we can retrieve the CO2 stored in the underground pockets. It is a permanent solution.”
Geologist Kris Welkenhuysen says storing the CO2 takes it out of the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands to millions of years. But is it safe? “Concentrations of CO2 under high pressure do bring certain safety risks, but I see more risks involved in transport, be it by trucks or pipelines. For the underground storage, there will be enough safety mechanisms”, says Welkenhuysen.
Unique project, limited impact
According to Welkenhuysen, the project of the three ports is ambitious and unique. “There are only a dozen commercial projects worldwide, and none of them on this scale.”
The choice for Rotterdam is logical. The city has since long the ambition to become the CO2 hub and it has a number of empty offshore gas fields which Belgium doesn’t, although it does have empty coal mines. Welkenhuysen also says it will take at least a hundred years to fill the gas fields.
But the 10 million tons is a fraction of the world’s available storage space. In 2005, the UN climate panel (IPCC) estimated the underground storage capacity at 2.000 billion tons. On the other hand, given the total Belgian and Dutch CO2 output from now to 2030, 10 million tons represents 0,3 percent… the equivalent of 14 days worth of emissions.
Quickly starting carbon capture and storage is a good thing, according to Wyns, given the urgency of the climate problem. It will take until 2030 for the the system of the three ports to be fully operational.
By then, technology will have to become more efficient, says Wyns. “Especially managing to capture pure CO2 only, which is still a complex story. We shouldn’t start storing air underground.”
Saeys makes an important side note: “Companies like Exxon Mobil and Shell since long pump CO2 in oil and gas fields to maximize output. For them it is a way to keep developing their oil reserves, so CCS is in some way supporting the market of fossil fuels.”
He thinks a European restitution policy could be interesting to minimize the CO2 impact of fossil fuels. “See it this way: for every carbon atom that is taken from the underground, companies would have to put one or even more than one back in.”