The Flemish government has approved a long-term plan to spend 400 million euros over the next 20 years in managing carbon dioxide (CO₂), considered to be one of the main substances at the root of climate change.
The plan is for the region to become climate neutral by 2050, by cutting down on fossil fuel consumption on the one hand, while on the other capturing, stocking and re-using CO₂ that is still being produced.
The technology is not new, explains the VRT. Oil and gas companies have stored and re-used CO2 in the oil fields since the 1970s, forcing the gas into the wells to push the last drop of oil out. Later, in 1996, the Sleipner gas field in Norwegian waters managed to store excess CO₂ 1km beneath the sea floor.
However the techniques are expensive, and while they may be justified against the income created by the extraction of oil and gas, there is no related income from carbon capture and storage (CCS) for climate protection.
More recently, a major CCS project in the port of Rotterdam was cancelled when industrial partners balked at the high costs expected. The 15 million euros spent on research for the project was lost, but the results remain.
Norway continues its research, using the natural storage capacity of undersea deposits of water-retaining porous rock on the seabed off their coast. Similar storage capacity exists in parts of the North Sea in British and Dutch waters, as well as off the south coast of Ireland.
Belgium has no such capacity, but it does have industries – in the petrochemical cluster in the port of Antwerp, as well as cement and steel factories — that would be clients for CCS provided by others.
The Flemish government is meanwhile interested in CCU – carbon capture and use – which would see the cost of CCS remain in the region. One example is a pilot project launched in Ghent last week between steel producer Arcelor Mittal and chemicals manufacturer Dow, to split the carbon monoxide and CO₂ from steel production and use the CO₂ to make bio-ethanol, a renewable energy source.
In Antwerp, energy provider Engie has joined with waste incinerator Indeval to use CO2 capture to make ethanol, another source of energy.
These and others similar projects are the target of the Flemish government’s commitment of 400 million euros over the next 20 years – by which time the technology for CCS and CCU will certainly have advanced.
An economy without the production of CO₂ is not possible, said innovation minister Philippe Muyters, launching the initiative in Antwerp, but an economy that is CO₂-neutral ought to be a reality.
“The solution lies in innovation,” he said. “Carbon is a valuable commodity, but we urgently need to find new ways to deal with it in our society and our industry. If we can achieve not only a reduction in the emission of CO₂, but also ways of extracting CO₂ from the air to be used as a worthwhile raw material, that would be of inestimable value to our climate.”