The momentum for carbon capture and storage (CCS) has accelerated on all sides in the past year as Northern Lights starts to become a reality. That was reflected in discussions at this year’s Northern Lights Summit, with a focus on specific actions and the partnerships needed to move forward.

Moment of truth

The Summit concluded that we had reached a moment of truth on delivering on CCS. “It’s like jumping into a swimming pool holding hands,” said Syrie Crouch, Shell’s representative on the JV’s company meeting. “We’ve got to get a partnership going between the customer and the storage provider where we can’t put all the risk on one side or the other…The third partner in the conversation are the governments and they need to understand that industry is holding hands and trying to jump together.”

Speakers from Northern Lights discussed the progress they had made on the ground – building pipelines, storage tanks, ships, jetties and a visitor centre to share knowledge – ready for launch in 2024. The project has strong support from industrial emitters, the Norwegian government and the EU. The big question now is how to transform the enormous energy and interest into predictable demand for CO2 storage so that the JV’s owners can take a final investment decision on expanding storage capacity.

That will require signing the first commercial agreements between Northern Lights and customers – setting the path for this nascent industry. “The key is to establish a robust and sustainable framework for a first-of-a-kind industry, with new types of risks and liabilities that we need to assess and mature together,” according to Jean-Philippe Hiegel, Strategy and Market Director for Northern Lights. “The ambition is to define that converging path between affordability for customers and profitability for investors and shareholders, so we can replicate these projects at the scale required.”

Martijn Smit, Business Development Director for Northern Lights, highlighted the difficulty of alignment. “There are three different timelines that need to come together at one moment in time – Northern Lights needs to take an investment decision, the capture sites need to take an investment decision and bilateral agreements need to come into being.”

Bilateral agreements

Terje Aasland, Norway’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy, talked about the progress of collaboration in Europe to accelerate momentum on CCS. He focused on what it would take for Europe to be able to leverage the additional storage resources Norway is developing on the back of the Longship/Northern Lights experience. In particular, he discussed the need for bilateral agreements between Norway and other countries that would enable the cross-border transport of CO2 and government funding mechanisms to create a market and open up opportunities for commercial players. “The sharing of infrastructure for CO2 transport and storage will save time and money in the transition to a climate-neutral industrial sector in Europe.”


Terje Aasland, Norway’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy

That message was echoed by potential customers of Northern Lights who appealed for standardised bilateral agreements between emitting countries and Norway.

Key transformation technology

Industrial emitters were clear that their decarbonisation plans rely on CCS. Neil Carr, President of Dow Europe said CCS is “absolutely crucial” to reach Dow’s 2030 reduction targets and carbon neutrality by 2050. “The only meaningful way of us being able to achieve anywhere close to the Fit for 55 goals is carbon capture. Without it, all the other areas we are looking at will not get us to that target.” Magnus Ankarstrand, President of Yara Clean agreed there is no way to reach targets without CCS: “it is the only way we can scale clean ammonia fast this decade”.

Jarand Rystad, CEO of Rystad , presented new research showing that 10-20% of European emissions are hard-to-abate. His data suggested CCS should be implemented immediately to decarbonize cement and waste-to-energy, where there are no scalable alternatives. Refineries and ammonia plants are also obvious first-takers, since they offer easy-to-capture CO2. For gas power, steel and aluminium, the jury is still out on whether CCS is the best decarbonisation route, while with biomass and petrochemicals interest is growing.

Creating a Europe-wide CO2 infrastructure

A key theme running through the Summit was the need for clarity and predictability to enable the individual players to move forward, Another key concept was reliability. As Dougie Sutherland, CEO of Cory, put it: “We need resilience in the systems. If the storage facility is not ready or has down-times, what do I do with the CO2 we are producing?” To create an open system, with multiple storage site and transport options, there is a lot of joining up that needs to happen. That means technical agreements between different storage providers to ensure inter-operability, legal agreement to make it happen and regulatory standardisation to enable the market.

Chris Bolesta, CCUS Policy Lead at DG Energy, said the Commission was focused on regulatory options to support a Europe-wide CO2 infrastructure. “The infrastructure bit is crucial in terms of the whole CCS story”.


Mainstreaming carbon removals

At present, CCS is focused on industrial emissions, but CCS infrastructure will also be needed to scale up carbon removals, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere as an integral part of the net zero transition.

We heard from a range of potential Northern Lights customers that are also generating negative emissions. Half of Cory’s captured emissions from waste incineration will be biogenic rather than fossil. Stockholm Exergi is burning biomass for district heating and cooling, making all captured and stored emissions negative. Climeworks and Carbon Engineering are capturing CO2 directly from the air to be stored geologically.

One of the biggest challenges for these companies is the lack of market mechanisms that price in the increased costs associated with high-durability carbon removals. Fabien Ramos, Policy Officer at DG Climate Action, explained the framework he is developing to compare the durability and benefits of different carbon removal solutions. “If we want to be carbon neutral by 2050, we will need not tens of millions of tonnes of CO2 removed, but hundreds of million tonnes,” he said. “In Europe, we don’t have technological solutions that are removing carbon at scale – we are almost at zero.”

Deliver, rapidly and at low cost

On behalf of Northern Lights, Bruno Seilhan, VP CCS at co-owner TotalEnergies, summarised the message he is taking away from the Summit as “deliver, rapidly and at low cost”. That requires simplification and a step-by-step approach. Northern Lights has taken a first step by focusing on the residual emissions of hard-to-abate industries and targeting local emissions first with two Norwegian sources for the launch phase. Bilateral agreements will take out much of the complexity of importing CO2. Unbundling services and greater flexibility will also come over time, but first Northern Lights needs to deliver this nascent industry and it needs to be robust, in time and at cost.