* $1 billion facility will test two technologies
* Its two plants have capacity for 100,000 tonnes CO2 a year
* Investment for full-scale plant depends on carbon price
By Nerijus Adomaitis
MONGSTAD, Norway, May 7 Norway on Monday
launched the world's largest facility of its kind to develop
carbon capture and storage (CCS), the so-far commercially
unproven technology that would allow greenhouse gases from power
plants to be buried safely underground.
A 5.8 million Norwegian crown ($1.00 billion)
government-funded centre will test two post-combustion carbon
capture technologies that could be extended to industrial-scale
use if shown to be cost-effective and safe.
"Today we are opening the world's largest and most advanced
laboratory to test carbon capture technologies... It is an
important project for Norway and for the world," Prime Minister
Jens Stoltenberg told the opening ceremony at the Technology
Centre Mongstad (TCM), northwest of Bergen city.
The facility will be able unique in that it can test
exhaust gases from two nearby sources - a 280-megawatt combined
heat and power plant and the 10-million tonnes per year Mongstad
refinery. These produce flue gases with different carbon dioxide
(CO2) contents - about 3.5 percent and 13 percent respectively.
Mongstad's emissions have a similar carbon dioxide content
to those emitted by coal fuelled power plants - which scientist
say make a particularly serious contribution to climate change.
CCS offers the prospect of possibly continuing to burn
fossil fuels while avoiding the worst effects by burying the
emissions, for example in depleted natural gas fields under the
sea, although it will be costly.
Stoltenberg said in a 2007 speech that carbon capture and
storage would be Norway's equivalent of a Moon landing.
The centre has two carbon capture plants with a combined
capacity to process 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year,
making it the largest, Olav Folk Pedersen, the TCM's technology
manager, told Reuters.
"CATCH AND RELEASE"
However, the capacity is only slightly more than a tenth of
what Mongstad refinery emits per year. During the testing period
all CO2 captured will be released into the atmosphere, thus
having no impact on reducing the refinery's emissions costs.
"Speaking in fishing terms, it's a "catch and release"
facility," Pedersen said earlier at the briefing.
So far, few countries have agreed to invest heavily in
carbon capture. Those with projects include the United States,
Australia, Britain and China.
European Union Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger
applauded Norway's efforts, which take place at a time when
other CCS demonstration projects in Europe have stalled due to
lack of investment.
"It's an important milestone in Europe's undertaking to
develop CCS technologies... It will provide a new momentum to
the discussion of CCS use in Europe," he told the ceremony.
Oettinger has said that natural gas can have a long-term
future in Europe only if CCS can be applied.
Norway, with a population of just 4.9 million, is the
world's eighth-biggest exporter of oil and Western Europe's
biggest exporter of natural gas.
Ola Borten Moe, Norway's petroleum and energy minister, told
the ceremony a full-scale CCS facility at Mongstad might be
possible later, with an investment decision due in 2016, but
emissions permit prices had to rise to justify the spending.
Helge Lund, the chief executive of oil firm Statoil
, a partner in TCM, added: "We cannot defend it
economically, because CO2 prices are so low now. We need to find
some sort of the solution in the future."
The EU's carbon market was touted as the cheapest and most
effective way to cut emissions by putting a price on carbon
dioxide emissions and getting the private sector to factor that
cost into long-term investment decisions.
However, carbon permit prices are trading below 7 euros,
around a quarter of what many lawmakers say is the minimum level
needed to get companies to invest in clean technology.
TCM will test two carbon capture technologies, one based on
amine and the other on chilled ammonia solvent, to trap CO2
emitted from the plant and the refinery.
($1 = 5.7996 Norwegian crowns)
(Editing by Anthony Barker)