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Where will Europe store its CO2? 

July 4, 2023 Work Area: Carbon Capture

CATF’s new report highlights that there is ample potential to develop storage capacity in a wide range of member states that wish to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) to decarbonise or to help other countries decarbonise. By mapping the relationship between suitable storage geology and likely areas of high demand for CCS, it also helps visualise where new storage sites will be most effectively placed, and where key CO2 transport corridors should emerge. While the North Sea is capable of storing centuries of European emissions, Southern and Eastern Europe may see localised capacity constraints if there is an over-reliance on the few storage hubs developing today. 

Carbon capture and storage is essential for Europe to reach its legally binding target of climate neutrality by 2050, most importantly as a means to  decarbonise hard-to-abate industries and deliver permanent removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. In the last six months, carbon capture technologies received further recognition from the European Commission, with the inclusion of a target for an annual CO2 storage capacity of 50 million tonnes by 2030 in the proposal for a Net Zero Industry Act (NZIA), and an Industrial Carbon Management Strategy expected by the end of the year. 

Following CATF’s work to highlight the shortage of available geologic storage, this new focus on bringing CO2 storage capacity to market is a welcome development. In the past year, many new CO2 storage sites have been announced in and around the North Sea, with projects in Denmark alone potentially reaching the 50 Mt/year target. However, for the NZIA to be truly useful for accelerating industrial decarbonisation in Europe, it must drive new storage projects in regions where there is currently little activity, especially Southern, Central and Eastern Europe. For emitters in these regions, sending their CO2 all the way to the North Sea will put them at a competitive disadvantage or be prohibitively expensive.  

But how much geological storage capacity is available across Europe, and is there enough capacity for CO2 to be stored more locally? How is CO2 likely to move around the region, and how might this be optimised? A new in-depth study by CATF and Element Energy (an ERM Company) attempts to answer these questions by mapping future demand for CO2 capture against suitable storage geology.  

Key Findings: Unlocking Europe’s CO2 storage potential  

  • Europe has enough potential storage capacity to deal with projected rates of CO2 capture for at least 500 years. 
  • Over two thirds of European countries have enough capacity to store at least 100 years of their own captured industrial emissions. 
  • Relying only on currently planned CO2 storage hubs (the Export scenario) may lead to capacity constraints in Southern and Eastern Europe. 
  • In the Export scenario, high-volume CO2 transport networks with throughputs of at least 20 million tonnes per year in 2050 are required in Germany, Poland, the Low Countries, and around the Adriatic. 
  • If most countries develop their own storage resource (the Domestic scenario), capacity constraints at storage hubs are eliminated, although the need for (shorter) inland transport networks remains – particularly in Germany and Poland. 
  • In the Domestic scenario, up to a quarter of emissions are still exported by ship or offshore pipeline. 
  • The estimated capital costs of a more widespread storage scenario are two to three times less than an export-reliant scenario, while annual operating costs are over three times less.   

A comprehensive review of European storage capacity 

The report has reviewed existing estimates and studies of  geological CO2 storage capacity across Europe, producing a high and low estimate for each country (Figure 1).1 Many of these studies have been refined at a national level since the EU’s last attempts to provide an overview in 2011. However, there remains a large variation in the accuracy of estimates, with some analyses assuming CO2 can be stored over a whole region of sedimentary rock (‘basin’) while others are based on more detailed analysis of individual rock structures that can confine CO2 (‘traps’).2  

Figure 1. High and low storage capacity estimates for each European country considered, shown on a map of Europe’s sedimentary basins (left) and on a logarithmic scale (right). 

The results show that the vast majority of European countries have good potential for CO2 storage, with only Estonia, Finland, and Luxembourg lacking suitable geology, and Belgium, Austria and Slovenia declaring very limited capacity. If we consider the more accurate estimates based on trap analysis, the North Sea countries of UK, Norway and Denmark are prominent, but it is worth noting that Poland, Spain and France also have very high theoretical capacities.  

Projecting the demand for CO2 storage 

The study develops two scenarios for the deployment of CO2 capture across industrial emitters, considering six sectors (cement and lime, chemicals, paper and pulp, iron and steel, refining, and waste management) which collectively account for 95% of Europe’s industrial emissions.  

The first is dubbed the ‘Prioritised CCS’ scenario, which uses literature projections and other factors to determine a likely level of total carbon capture uptake in each sector. This uptake is then allocated to individual facilities around Europe, with priority given to larger plants and those which are close to heavily industrialised clusters.  

The second ‘Technical Potential’ scenario includes all industrial CO2 emitters in the region. This is not intended to depict a likely scenario for CCS deployment (many of these emitters may find other ways to decarbonise), but it allows us to match every emitter with a potential CO2 sink, while also exploring the limits of CO2 storage capacity in each area. 

CO2 will also be stored for other reasons than industrial decarbonisation, such as to remove CO2 from the atmosphere through bio-energy CCS (BECCS) or direct air capture (DAC). In some areas, it may also be used to help decarbonise fossil-based power plants or the production of hydrogen from fossil gas. As there is much more uncertainty over where and how much CO2 will be captured for these purposes, the study estimates likely demand across Europe and allocates them either at the country level (power and BECCS) or to the whole region (hydrogen and DAC). 

In total, the Prioritised CCS scenario sees 313 million tonnes per year of industrial emissions captured by 2050, with an additional 204 million tonnes per year of non-industrial CO2.  

Figure 2 shows that 20 out of the 28 countries have enough theoretical storage capacity to store their own industrial emissions for over 100 years. As a region, Europe has enough capacity to store both industrial and non-industrial emissions in this scenario for at least 500 years. 

Figure 2. The storage capacity of each country shown as the number of years of captured emissions that could be stored, based on projected industrial CO2 capture rates at 2050 (Prioritised CCS scenario) 

From source to sink: How captured CO2 emissions can connect to storage sites 

Once we have the likely locations of the captured emissions, we can match them up with possible CO2 storage areas. For both levels of deployment considered, this is done in two ways that represent extremes of how CO2 storage might develop in Europe. First, we consider a situation where only a few storage areas are established; these are currently planned projects, which are mostly offshore and linked to areas of oil and gas production: the North Sea, the Adriatic, the Black Sea, the Northern Aegean, and South-West France. Designated the ‘Export scenario’, this relies heavily on long-distance transport of CO2 around Europe – particularly by ship. 

The second pathway – the ‘Domestic scenario’ – considers the development of storage in every country with adequate suitable geology. This includes early-stage storage sites proposed under initiatives such as the EU-funded ‘Strategy CCUS’ project, or where necessary, depicts CO2 as aggregated to the centre of major sedimentary basins.3

Figure 4 shows how the Export scenario develops over time in the ‘Prioritised CCS’ case, with some currently announced CO2 export terminals used to aggregate captured emissions in 2035. By this date, 76 million tonnes per year are brought to the North Sea Basin – assumed to cover various sites in the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway – with Germany providing by far the most significant contribution, due to its extensive energy-intensive manufacturing industry.  

In 2050, more export ports are developed to reflect the growing deployment of CO2 capture across the region, reaching the total of 313 million tonnes captured and stored. Of this, 228 million tonnes per year are transported from Northern and Western Europe to the North Sea, while Northern Italy is expected to manage 64 million tonnes per year from around Southern Europe. Such is the capacity expected of North Sea storage that, even at this rate, it could provide over 400 years of theoretical storage. However, storage capacity in the Adriatic and Northern Italy generally could be stretched – at worst limited to only 23 years of capacity. 

Figure 4. The development of the Export-based/Prioritised CCS scenario over time 

The export scenario also highlights the urgent need for CO2 transport networks that reach far inland to bring captured emissions to terminals – particularly in Germany, Poland and the Netherlands. By 2050, over 40 million tonnes annually may need to exit Germany via a North Sea terminal, while over 20 million tonnes are transported to the Baltic coasts of Poland and Germany and North Sea ports in the Netherlands and Belgium. 

For comparison, Figure 5 shows how the Domestic scenario develops over time. Even by 2035, we assume some additional storage locations are developed. With no sites currently foreseen in Germany (where onshore CO2 storage is effectively banned), there is still a significant export demand from Germany’s North Sea Coast. But the need for extensive overland transport in Poland and other Central European countries is greatly reduced relative to the Export scenario, and there is much less long-distance shipping in the Mediterranean thanks to new storage sites in Spain’s Ebro Basin and South-East France. 

Figure 5. The development of the domestic storage-based/Prioritised CCS scenario over time  

In 2050, we assume that nearly every country develops one or more area for storage. This allows for a much wider distribution of CO2 than in the Export scenario, with only around 100 to 130 million tonnes delivered to the North Sea.4 Storage areas in Southern and Eastern Europe are put under much less strain than in the Export scenario, with Northern Italy dealing with only 4.4 million tonnes per year. However, the proposed emergence of a location in Switzerland as a major regional storage hub is uncertain, given suitable geology in the country is currently poorly characterised. Alternatively, many of these CO2 sources may be redirected to surplus capacity within Italy, Germany, or the North Sea. The role of onshore CO2 transport networks is still considerable – particularly in Germany – but the need for CO2 shipping is significantly reduced.  

Figure 6 highlights the significant difference in costs associated with the transportation networks required under each scenario. By 2050, the Export scenario sees capital costs of up to 30 billion euros and annual operating costs of over 5.5 billion euros; these costs are reduced by roughly 60% and 70% respectively in the Domestic scenario.   

Figure 6. Comparison of transport costs under each scenario, showing capital expenses (capex) and operating expenses (opex).  

Implications for policymakers: Building an efficient carbon capture and storage market 

As industrial facilities can only plan according to visible CO2 storage projects, the near-term outlook for European CCS closely resembles the study’s Export scenario. This can be seen in the transport routes proposed by the candidates applying to become Projects of Common Interest for CO2 networks’, or projects selected by the EU’s Innovation Fund, which include a Polish cement plant that will transport CO2 by rail to Gdansk for onwards shipping to the North Sea. In Switzerland, studies are exploring options to connect emitters to the North Sea by long-distance transport.  

Although feasible for a few well-subsidised first-mover projects and smaller volumes of CO2, this approach will not be viable for the scale of EU-wide CCS envisaged by most decarbonisation scenarios and would come at enormous additional cost.  

To enable decarbonisation at scale, CO2 infrastructure in Europe needs to gradually progress from a more export-led scenario – with greater reliance on shipping – towards more distributed storage supported by high-volume inland transport networks. Member States should work to accelerate this process to reduce costs for their industries and harness the value of their own geological resources. The challenge ahead will be to manage the development of assets and infrastructure that are sufficiently flexible to this evolution, while ensuring the scale up of these technologies are fast enough to match the pace required by our climate goals.   

The proposal for a Net Zero Industry Act reflects this need to accelerate storage development beyond the North Sea, but additional steps will be necessary to realise infrastructure that offers cost competitive access to all. Several countries currently have effective bans on CO2 storage or incomplete regulatory frameworks, which make storage development challenging or impossible.5 Storage sites will also struggle to develop in areas without a clear strategy for incentivising and coordinating CO2 capture plants and transport networks.  

The NZIA and forthcoming Industrial Carbon Management Strategy have the potential to resolve many of these issues by accelerating permitting, establishing a platform to connect capture plants with stores, galvanising public and private investment and establishing a regulatory framework for cross-border CO2 infrastructure. Wise use of new and existing funding instruments at the EU and Member State level can help drive early project deployment, with growing income from the EU Emissions Trading System a logical resource to draw on.  

To maximise the potential of these policies in decarbonising European industry, CATF recommends they: 

  • Fund the creation of a Europe-wide ‘CO2 storage atlas’ – including the acquisition of new data – to help fill the significant gaps in our knowledge of the region’s storage potential. 
  • Ensure that storage capacity developed under the NZIA adequately reflects the geographical spread of decarbonising industries across Europe, and establish a mechanism for the setting of future storage targets. 
  • Work towards the removal of regulatory barriers and resource constraints impeding project development in those Member States that wish to exploit their storage capacity. 
  • Ensure adequate funding is available for the deployment of early-mover capture projects in new regions and the build-out of key CO2 transport corridors and storage hubs – particularly in Germany, Poland, the Low Countries, and around the Adriatic. 
  • Implement a regulatory framework for CO2 transport in Europe and a plan for network development, enabling a pan-European, competitive market for CO2 storage services. 

1. The study covers the EU Member States (excl. Malta and Cyprus for storage analysis), Switzerland, Norway, and the UK.

2. For a few countries (Ireland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Czechia) where no or few adequate estimates currently exist, the study conducts new analysis based on the areas of sedimentary rock available and typical storage factors (labelled ‘bottom-up estimates’).

3. In reality, there would likely be several injection locations distributed throughout these suitable areas..

4. The range is due to uncertainty in the ultimate destination of emissions that continue to be exported from the Baltic states.

5. Poland recently took steps to lift legal restrictions to CO2 storage and others (such as Germany) may follow suit.

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