Europe’s cross-border CO2 networks start to take shape
In December, the European Commission released a list of the 18 projects competing to be formally recognised as key pieces within the EU’s emerging infrastructure for the transport and storage of CO2. Under the Trans-European Networks for Energy (TEN-E) regulation, a list of ‘Projects of Common Interest’ (PCI) is published biennially, with cross-border CO2 transport and storage networks being one of several priority areas for development. Successful applicants stand to gain a range of benefits, including faster permitting and access to funding through the Connecting Europe Facility.
This year’s 6th PCI list – the fourth to include CO2 networks – is of particular interest since it comes after a major revision to the TEN-E regulation in 2022. Following a successful campaign led by Bellona and Clean Air Task Force, the CO2 network category was opened up to geological storage projects – a vital inclusion given the severe shortage of CO2 storage projects currently in the pipeline. All PCIs must connect two or more Member States, and the designation ‘Projects of Mutual Interest’ (PMIs) has also been introduced for projects that include non-EU Member States (‘third countries’).
This latest list of candidates represents a substantial increase over to the eight projects which applied to the 5th list, indicative of the growing momentum in Europe for carbon capture and storage as a vital enabler of industrial decarbonisation. Also significant is the much wider geographical reach of the current crop; where plans have previously been confined to the North Sea, we now see interest from the four corners of the continent, spanning from Iceland to Greece, and from Spain to Lithuania.
The North Sea cements its status as a storage hub
Most projects nevertheless remain concentrated around the North Sea, where oil and gas incumbents (as well as newcomers) look to develop the massive offshore potential for geological storage. The cluster of cross-border CO2 network projects in this region mostly aim to connect several planned storage sites with clusters of heavy industry across Northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. Some of these, including the ports of Dunkirk, Antwerp, and Rotterdam, already appeared in some form under the 5th PCI list; among the newer initiatives include plans for CO2 export terminals in Le Havre (France), Zeebrugge (Belgium), and Wilhelmshaven (Germany).
Shipping CO2 from emitter to storer has quickly emerged as a popular choice for early projects in Europe, owing to its flexibility and lower upfront costs, and remains a key feature of the new list, with about 15 import or export terminals referenced in the PCI descriptions. However, the list also features some major CO2 pipeline initiatives, including the ambitious Equinor-led plan to connect Zeebrugge and Wilhelmshaven with large new storage sites on the Norwegian Continental Shelf via up to 900 km of pipeline. Pipelines can offer much lower overall transportation costs than shipping, but are capital intensive and will rely on long-term certainty over large volumes of captured CO2.
Although most of the North Sea storage projects mentioned by the candidate projects are existing plans, such as Northern Lights, Aramis in the Netherlands, and Total’s Bifrost in Denmark, there are also some relatively new proposals. In particular, Denmark’s Norne Project stands out as it covers two onshore storage projects, each to be linked to proposed CO2 import facilities at nearby ports. Following early failures due to poor public acceptance, there is longstanding caution towards onshore CO2 storage in the EU, but with five onshore proposals on the list, developers are evidently beginning to see it as a viable, lower-cost opportunity in the right context.
Inland transport takes many forms
Looking beyond the North Sea coast, several projects reflect the clear need to connect the planned export terminals to CO2 emitters inland, either by pipeline, barge, rail, or road. The industrial heartlands of Germany loom large in these plans, which include the Delta Pipeline initiative to connect Rotterdam to the heavily industrialised region of North-Rhine Westphalia and further south to Ludwigshafen. This forms part of a wider plan by gas grid operator OGE, who have submitted a plan for a CO2 pipeline network spanning much of the country. Other modes of transport also feature, including a plan to take CO2 from Duisburg up the Rhine under Project Nautilus.
The Baltic connection
With its relatively easy access by ship to the North Sea, the Baltic coast is another emerging area for CO2 export. Plans for a terminal Gdansk already featured in the 5th PCI list, leading to several CO2 capture plans in the area, and the hub appears again in conjunction with a similar initiative in Klaipeda, Lithuania. Both hubs promise to aggregate emissions from their surrounding areas for export, using rail, pipeline, or barge where necessary.
Emerging activity in the Med
Perhaps the most significant additions to the current list of candidates are the new wave of proposals across Southern Europe. While most have been announced in some form over the past two years, PCI recognition could be an important step towards realisation. In the French Pyrenees, the Pycasso project is another onshore storage project which aims to exploit the substantial geological storage resource first hinted at by the successful Lacq pilot project (2010-2013). This initiative aims to collect CO2 from across South-Western France as well as linking to Spain either by ship to the port of Bayonne, or by pipeline across the mountains. Project Callisto revolves around Italy’s long-stalled Ravenna Hub, which showed signs of life last year in the formation of a joint venture between Eni and Snam. As one of the few near-term storage prospects in the Mediterranean, Callisto seeks to link the hub by ship to the large industrial cluster near Marseille, as well as inland emitters in France and Italy. In Greece, Energean’s Prinos storage site – like Ravenna, based on a depleted gas field – also sets out its case as a permanent sink for CO2 in the eastern Mediterranean, including a specific plan to ship the greenhouse gas from a cement plant in Sicily.
Finally, developers in Croatia have put forward a storage site in the North-East of the country as a means of decarbonising cement production, both in Croatia and across the border in Hungary.
A Europe-wide network
Some of these candidates will not make the cut once the final list is approved in November, although their chances of progressing can be improved by responding to the open EU consultation by 16th March. Many of the plans are still at an early stage, and most tend to stay necessarily vague, often listing a wide range of possible CO2 transport options or storage destinations. But they nevertheless paint an informative picture of how a truly cross-regional CO2 infrastructure could look and operate, should the appropriate political support and industrial investment fall into place. Although a vital supplement for a few of the current wave of projects, funding from the Connecting Europe Facility does not make an investment case alone. In Europe, the carbon price under the ETS is the fundamental driver of decarbonisation, and the flurry of interest in carbon capture and storage owes much to its recent strength. Rational planning of optimised, large-scale infrastructure through policy tools like TEN-E can help ensure that emitting industries from across Europe have access to the means to decarbonise, and prevent piecemeal, higher-cost strategies which will slow progress.