Climate 'breakthrough' as carbon buried back in oil fields under the sea

We’ve long known that burning the oil and gas extracted from the North Sea is a major contributor to climate change. But what if the carbon dioxide released by those fuels could be removed from the atmosphere and returned to where it came, deep under the sea?

That process, known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), is not new – but until now has never been achieved on an industrial scale. However, chemical company Ineos has unveiled a major breakthrough in proving the ability to scale up CCS to a level that would significantly reduce companies’ and countries’ carbon footprint.

Testing the process at their Ineos Oxide plant in Antwerp, which produces chemicals used for materials and antifreeze, the company captured carbon emissions, transformed them into liquid by heating, compressing, and cooling, transported them by boat out to an empty oil field in the Danish North Sea, 1,800m below the seabed. 

The project was developed by Project Greensand, a consortium of 23 organisations working together to scale up CCS headed by Ineos and their partner Wintershall Dea. 

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, a Project Greensand backer and founder and chairman of Ineos, said: ‘This is a breakthrough for carbon capture and storage. It is the first time that carbon dioxide has been successfully captured, transported cross-border and safely stored offshore anywhere in the world.’

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President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen echoed the significance of the breakthrough. 

‘This is a big moment for Europe’s green transition, and for our clean tech industry, the first ever full value chain for carbon capture and storage in Europe,’ she said. ‘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. This is what Europe’s competitive sustainability is all about.”

The group aims to capture and store eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, which equates to 40% of Denmark’s annual emissions. In order to meet its 2050 climate goals, it is estimated the European Union will need to store 300 million tonnes of CO2 a year. 

On the other side of the Atlantic, a team at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, have developed a method of capturing carbon dioxide from the air – rather than industry emissions at source as at Ineos – and turning it into baking soda.

Arup SenGupta and his colleagues have developed a new material capable of absorbing two to three times more CO2 than existing materials. When mixed with seawater it converts into sodium bicarbonate – baking soda – which can then be released into the ocean with no ecological side-effects. In fact, it could prove beneficial, helping reverse ocean acidification resulting from acidification when atmospheric CO2 is dissolved directly into the sea.

However, opponents of the CCS concept argue the process itself is energy intensive, and discourages more polluting industries to develop clean energy alternatives in their production chain, instead opting for the easier option of removing the CO2 they produce.

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