Three of the largest ports in Europe – Rotterdam, Antwerp and Ghent – are to be used to capture and bury 10m tonnes of CO2 emissions under the North Sea in what will be the biggest project of its kind in the world.
The ports, which account for one-third of the total greenhouse gas emissions from the Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg region, would be used to pipe the gas into vast cavities about two miles (3km) below the seabed.
It is hoped the project could be completed by 2030 but the scale of the storage, in two empty gas fields, is unprecedented and raises questions about how the CO2 will affect the deep subsurface, according to the Dutch government.
An application for EU project of common interest status for the development has been made, which would open the door to subsidies for building the network.
The goal is to construct the CO2 network in the port of Rotterdam by 2026, with work then to be completed in the following four years on a cross-border pipeline to Antwerp and the North Sea port by Ghent.
A further expansion beyond the initial 10m tonnes of C02 is expected after 2030. The total emissions of the business activities in the ports amount to more than 60m tons of CO2 a year.
The purpose of carbon capture is to aid the transition of industry towards the elimination of the burning of fossil fuels, and to help reach climate change targets set in the Paris agreement. The Dutch government is targeting a 49% reduction in emissions by 2030.
Scientists in Belgium and the Netherlands have largely welcomed the plans.
Prof Mark Saeys of Ghent University told De Morgen newspaper: “Of course I would prefer to see investments in renewable energy, but you have to be realistic: as long as we as a society remain dependent on fossil fuels, underground CO2 storage may be a crucial lever for achieving our climate targets.”
The world’s first large-scale carbon storage project was developed in 1996 off the Norwegian coast, injecting nearly 1m tonnes a year into a space 800 to 1,100 metres beneath the seabed.
But the development of carbon capture and storage has been stilted in Europe. In 2009, the European commission committed €1bn to finance six pilot projects with the hope of having 12 schemes up and running by 2015. Due to the high costs, none of the projects were developed.
More than 70% of the 30m tons of CO2 captured annually by facilities for use or storage is captured in North America.
The largest initiative in the world to date is the Petra Nova project in Texas, which was launched in 2017 and is attached to a coal-fired power station. It has an annual capture capacity of 1.4m tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of the emissions produced by 350,000 cars. The pipeline planned for the European ports project, known as Porthos, would have the capacity to transport 5m tonnes of CO2 a year.