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Europe could store over three centuries’ worth of carbon emissions

October 14, 2021 Work Area: Carbon Capture

According to a new CATF-commissioned report by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), Europe has enough geologic storage potential to store over three centuries’ worth of EU carbon dioxide emissions from stationary sources, based on 2020 emissions rates

Carbon capture and storage has been gaining significant momentum in Europe over the last few years with more than 40 projects announced so far. Carbon capture and storage technologies are an essential tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by capturing them before they are released into the atmosphere and then permanently storing them in deep geologic formations.  The growth of announced carbon capture projects alongside increasing climate ambitions highlights the need for a deep understanding of what geological storage resources exist in Europe. A new CATF-commissioned report by GEUS provides a summary of EU geologic carbon dioxide storage potential based on the most recent CO2StoP project assessment. The 2015 CO2StoP project is the most comprehensive study on geologic storage potential in Europe to date and includes data from 27 European countries. 

This blog provides an overview of key findings from the report. 

Figure 1: Map of Europe showing EU countries (hatched) and countries within the CO2StoP project study area (blue) 

Europe is fortunate to host significant geologic storage resources that are suitable for carbon dioxide storage, both onshore and offshore. Geologic storage resources in Europe, include deep saline aquifers as well as hydrocarbon fields, both of which can be utilized for carbon dioxide storage. Most of the storage potential in Europe is within saline aquifers that exist in large geologic basins in Northern Europe, with smaller opportunities scattered across southern Europe that are controlled by geologic constraints like mountains and lack of large sedimentary basins (Fig. 2). Saline aquifers are very deep geologic reservoirs with high porosity that contain non-potable, highly saline water (i.e., brine) and represent excellent targets for carbon storage. In total, the 418 saline aquifer storage units identified in the CO2StoP project add up to a total potential storage capacity of 482 Gt. 

Europe geologic storage - map 1
Figure 2: map of saline aquifers and associated estimated storage potential 

Additional storage opportunities exist in Europe in the form of hydrocarbon fields, with the majority of these fields being in the North Sea Basin (Fig. 3). Storage of carbon dioxide in hydrocarbon fields typically occurs by way of enhanced oil recovery, where carbon dioxide is injected into depleted oil reservoirs to enhance oil production and is then stored permanently in the same geologic formations that the oil was produced from. The total estimated storage capacity of the 513 hydrocarbon fields identified in the CO2StoP study is 25 Gt, with the Groningen field (7 Gt) in the Netherlands accounting for ~28% of the total capacity. 

Figure 3: map of hydrocarbon fields with associated storage capacity estimates 

While significant geologic storage resources exist in Europe, it is important to consider their geographic distribution with respect to major sources of carbon dioxide emissions. The maps above show that the majority of geologic resources exist in Northern Europe, with more limited/scattered resources in southern Europe. Fortunately, the location of most of the large sources of carbon dioxide emissions in Europe also exist in northern regions, however not all do (Fig. 4). This northern-skewed distribution of geologic storage resources highlights the need for carbon dioxide transportation infrastructure to address emissions from sources that are not within proximity to suitable geology. Without this, decarbonization opportunities related with carbon capture and storage will not be accessible to all EU member states. 

Europe geologic storage - map 3
Figure 4: Location and annual carbon dioxide emissions from European emission sources 

The storage estimates provided herein were derived from the CO2StoP project that used publicly available data, which can often be sparce in nature. These estimates should be considered preliminary, and more detailed geologic characterization efforts must be performed to verify storage potential. A more detailed summary of geologic storage resources, including a breakout by region, can be found in the GEUS storage summary report.  

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