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Carbon Sequestration - Is burying Carbon Dioxide underground a realistic option?

Climate Change is having a great impact on global perspectives, which is leading Governments and Businesses to take a serious look at Carbon Sequestration (CCS.) This means that instead of drilling gases out of the bottom of the planet, there is now a push to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the gases discarded by industry and transporting and injecting it into underground geological formations.

On November 4, 2009, European Union Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and US Secretary for Energy Steven Chu launched a new EU-US Energy Council in Washington, DC to “continue and deepen” cooperation in energy and environmental subjects including carbon capture and storage (CCS).

CCS is a technology that allows reduction of fossil fuel emissions by capturing CO2 from large emitters (such as coal or gas power plants and the steel industry) and storing it underground.

“As two of the greatest consumers of energy, we have a responsibility to work together to find solutions to some of the most challenging questions of our day,” EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

European Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik noted: “scientific cooperation to foster development of low carbon energy technologies will be a key pillar of this new EU-US Energy Council. The inclusion of research in this bilateral cooperation is also a political recognition of the importance of science to address our common challenges.”

Earlier on October 13, 2009, the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27 members bloc, the European Union, gathered leaders from 22 world countries, to explore the best ways to accelerate the commercialization of CCS at the 3rd Ministerial Meeting of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) in London, United Kingdom.

Advocates of CCS argue that bringing down the costs of the new technologies will enable CCS to exploit its full emission abatement potential and contribute to sustainable, secure and competitive energy.

While the Climate Change pundits agree that energy efficiency and renewables are in the long term, “the most sustainable solutions both for security of supply and climate,” they argue that “global greenhouse gas emissions cannot be reduced by at least 50% by 2050, as they need to be, if we do not also use other options such as carbon capture and storage.”

The European Commission has recently stated: “Timing is crucial. About a third of existing coal-fired power capacity in Europe will be replaced within the next 10 years. Internationally, the energy consumption of China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico will lead to a major global demand increase, which is likely to be met in large part from fossil fuels,” warning that the capacity to deal with these very substantial potential emissions “must urgently be developed.”

EU Commissioner Piebalgs told the audience at CSLF: "Public authorities must continue to support promoting the development and deployment of CCS technologies if we want to be successful in fighting climate change.”

“However, it is also time for significant private sector investments in order to commercialize demonstration projects and bring CCS technologies to the level of economic feasibility,” the commissioner noted.


To match words with actions, the EU is financing demonstration projects with support of 1.05 billion euros (1 euro= $1.5 approx.) from the European Economic Recovery Plan (EERP).

On the industrial side, the Commission has prepared for a Project Network of European early-movers involved in large-scale CCS demonstration projects.

The European Industrial Initiative on CCS completes the picture with an aim to mobilise development and deployment of technologies such as CCS to significantly reduce CO2 emissions from Europe's power generation.

Overall, nearly a hundred carbon storage demonstration projects are running globally at the moment but one in Norway is coming on top followed by two in Canada and Algeria respectively.

Norway charges 45 euros per ton of CO2 emission taxes thus making it profitable to inject than to emit and this has resulted in thousands of tons of CO2 already injected into a saline formation under sea level in Sleipner in Norway since 1996.

Both Weyburn in Canada and Salah in Algeria are also showing pragmatic and efficient use of technology to trap CO2 underground.

Other demonstration projects underway are the Vattenfall project at Schwarze Pumpe in Germany and the Total CCS project in the Lacq basin in France.


During a recent dialogue with the EU, Norway expressed its wish to contribute to realizing EUs ambitious plans for CCS through having CCS as a priority sector under the Norwegian Financial Mechanism.

The proposal implies that 20% of the EEA Norway grants, approx. 140 million euros for the new period 2009-2014, are allocated for this purpose.

After meeting Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Terje Riis-Johansen in Bergen (Norway), European Commissioner Piebalgs said: "The importance of Norway as an energy partner of the EU will never be underlined enough. It is not only EU's second main supplier of oil and gas, but also an important player in the internal energy market and a front-runner in clean energy technologies like CCS and renewables.”

Norway is the world’s third largest exporter of oil and gas after Saudi Arabia and Russia. Norway is the EU's second most important supplier of oil and gas – with more than 100 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. Norway is a member of the European Economic Area Agreement.


There are four main mechanisms to trap CO2 in geological formations:

1. Structural trapping, which is the presence of an impermeable cap-rock which prevents CO2 from escaping from the outset.
2. Residual CO2 trapping, where CO2 is trapped by capillary forces in the interstices of the rock formation, which develops about 10 years after injection.
3. Solubility trapping, where the CO2 dissolves in the water found in the geological formation and sinks because CO2 dissolved in water is heavier than normal water. This becomes important between 10 and 100 years after injection.
4. Mineral trapping happens when dissolved CO2 chemically reacts with the rock formation to produce minerals.

Moreover, there are two main kinds of geological formation that can be used for CO2 storage: depleted oil and gas fields, and saline aquifers (groundwater bodies whose salt content makes them unsuitable for drinking water or agriculture).

On the doubts raised about the safety factors, the expert opinion is that the risk of leakage will depend very much on the site in question.

Nobel laureate IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Special Report on CCS concluded that: “observations ... suggest that the fraction [of CO2] retained in appropriately selected and managed geological reservoirs is very likely to exceed 99% over 100 years and likely to exceed 99% over 1000 years.”

With the energy costs of carbon capture still very high, the question of whether CCS is taken up in practice will be answered by the carbon price and the cost of the technology. It will be up to each operator to decide whether it makes commercial sense to deploy CCS.

This article was written by Tejinder Singh

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  • Anonymous on March 02 2010 said:
    I don't know why the goverments of the world are worried about co2 emisions so much; one volcano can produce 100x the worlds collective (co2 emisions for a year.)
    Perhaps the goverments should try legislating against volcanos.
  • Anonymous on October 21 2010 said:
    [quote name="Keith"]I don't know why the goverments of the world are worried about co2 emisions so much; one volcano can produce 100x the worlds collective (co2 emisions for a year.)Perhaps the goverments should try legislating against volcanos.[/quote]How aout giving us the sourse for that staement. 100x seems were all dea the next time a volcano erupts :o

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