The Danish government has awarded licenses to three companies to store carbon dioxide under the seabed, as a step towards its target of becoming carbon negative by 2050.
Fossil fuel companies Total, Ineos and Wintershall DEA will try to store millions of tons of carbon dioxide in the sandstone of old oil and gas reservoirs in the North Sea.
Danish environment minister Lars Aagaard said: “This is not just a step towards a new green industry in our North Sea – it’s a milestone for our green transition.”
To start with, the companies will store carbon dioxide which has been captured from industrial sources like cement and steel companies and power plants.
By offsetting emissions, this will help Denmark reach net zero – when it emits no more greenhouse gases than it sucks up.
The government is also funding research into direct air capture, where carbon dioxide is sucked out of the air rather than from smokestacks. In theory, this can lead to negative emissions.
In December, the Danish government moved its net zero target from 2050 to 2045 and added a new target to reduce emissions by 110% between 1990 and 2050.
Mattias Söderberg, chief climate adviser at the DanChurchAid campaign group, told Climate Home: “In a long perspective it is good if Denmark can become carbon negative. That will be needed, to keep CO2 in the atmosphere on a sustainable level. However, that is a long term approach, and Denmark should still focus on how to reduce emissions in the coming years.”
Denmark has some of the highest historic emissions per person in the world. Its government is leading a push for countries to stop producing fossil fuels.
Expensive way to clean up
According to the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC), it is more expensive to avoid emissions through capturing and storing carbon dioxide (CCS) rather than investing in renewables or switching to electric vehicles. But CCS is a way to reduce emissions from sectors which are hard to clean up – like steel, cement and chemicals.
In 2022, the IPCC said capturing and storing a ton of CO2 costs between $50 and $100. Even at this high price, some academics think it is worth it.
While the US government currently says that each tonne of carbon dioxide does $51 of damage to society, a recent study in Nature magazine put the figure at around $185 worth of damage to society, making investing in CCS value for money compared to not doing so.
As shipping the gas is expensive, storing it onshore is generally cheaper but more politically controversial as local communities are likely to object to the pipelines and drilling.
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A spokesperson for Ineos told Climate Home the company weren’t making public the estimated cost of storing the CO2. He said carbon capture and storage was at an early stage of development and the company was working to bring the costs down.
In December 2020, the Danish government allocated DKK197 million ($25m) to the development and demonstration of CO2 storage in the North Sea.
The government wants the three projects to store 13 million tons of carbon dioxide a year from 2030 onwards. It estimates its depleted North Sea oilfields could store 22 billion tons in total, equivalent to over 500 years worth of Denmark’s current emissions.
Direct air capture
The costs of extracting carbon dioxide from the air, rather than from a smokestack, are even higher and the technology at an even earlier stage.
It’s more expensive because the air is less polluted and therefore more energy is required to suck out the same amount of carbon dioxide.
Scientists have estimated the cost at anywhere between $60 a ton and $1,000 a ton, with less evidence at the cheaper end.
With the world on course to warm up by more than 1.5C, the IPCC’s scientists predict that carbon removal is likely to be necessary to reduce global warming, particularly in the second half of the century.