Environmental Technology, News, Oil & Gas

Innovating a carbon-neutral future

As one of the world’s largest oil exporters, and with the nation’s electrical energy needs provided by hydropower, Norway might seem an unlikely country to lead on climate change policy. But in June 2007, the Government released a white paper...
Norway will be carbon-neutral by 2050, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg says, and as an interim target, the country will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent of the country’s 1990 levels. There’s no magic wand for meeting these challenging goals; instead, Norwegian ingenuity will be harnessed for solutions. The country’s solid record of research and development efforts in energy and the environment over the last decade gives Norway the tools it needs to reach its goals.
“Our white paper confirms Norway’s position as a leading nation with regard to climate policy. The most important action we can take to reduce global emissions will be to serve as a driving force in the efforts to develop a new, more comprehensive international agreement on climate change. At the same time we ourselves will make substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions both at home and abroad,” says Stoltenberg in his introduction to the climate plan.

When it becomes operational in 2014, Statoil’s Mongstad project will be the world’s largest full-scale CO2 capture
and storage project at the company’s refinery, built in conjunction with a combined heat and power plant.

Cutting greenhouse gases while still providing for society’s needs requires a blend of technological know-how mixed with a willingness to explore unusual approaches to solving vexing problems. Norway’s research and development efforts in energy and the environment have spanned this mix, whether it’s the CLIMIT programme, which seeks to find ways to trap CO2 emitted by gas-fired power plants, or RENERGI, the Research Council of Norway’s (RCN) giant renewable energy R&D programme. Research institutes such as SINTEF, along with the country’s universities, such as the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and the major research arms of Norwegian companies, such as Statoil, DNV and Hydro are also important in helping Norway innovate its way to a carbon-neutral and environmentally sound energy future.

Clean Burning Gas

While much of the world is focused on cutting carbon dioxide releases from coal-fired power plants, Norway has taken a different approach and is looking to cut CO2 emissions from natural gas, says Trygve Riis, special advisor to the RCN’s CLIMIT programme. CLIMIT is a cooperative effort between the RCN and Gassnova, another government effort funded by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, which combined have about NOK 140 million annually for research, development, and demonstration projects.
In 1998, when Norway signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to curb greenhouse gases, the country was in a dilemma – most nations could cut their annual production of CO2 by boosting energy from hydroelectric power, for example. But Norway already uses hydropower almost exclusively. Gas-fired power plants are an obvious alternative, but their CO2 emissions would lead Norway to violate its international promise. As a result, “everything around gas-fired power plants has been a hot political issue,” Riis says, and the Government has responded with large-scale research programmes such as CLIMIT and Gassnova to develop CO2 capture and storage technologies.
Among the most intriguing of these efforts is a power project in Mongstad being developed by Statoil. Due to be operational in 2014, the project will be the world’s largest full-scale CO2 capture and storage project at the company’s refinery, built in conjunction with a combined heat and power plant. “With this project we are writing industrial and environmental history,” says Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. DONG Energy, Hydro, Shell, Statoil and Vattenfall are partnering with the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy on the project; the companies involved have CO2 capture technologies that can be tested at the facility.
Building a power plant specifically designed to capture CO2 from the ground up is one thing, but what about existing industrial plants that will need to be retrofitted to capture CO2? The Norwegian industrial giant Aker Kværner has developed a solution to this problem with a technology called Just Catch, designed to capture CO2 from cement plants and coal and gas-fired power plants. The project, which has had support from Gassnova since 2005, has just entered its test phase, in which 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per year will be captured.

An Important International Player

Removing carbon dioxide from emissions or natural gas is a top research priority for scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Norway’s focus on developing clean, environmentally friendly energy technologies has paid dividends on a global level, says Riis from the Research Council. “R & D is a long term game, it moves in steps. But Norway is in a leading position because the government has put a lot of resources into this,” he says.

Riis says that Norway’s efforts make it among the leading players in a number of European Commission energy and environment research programmes. Researchers from NTNU and SINTEF, Scandinavia’s largest independent research institution, have been particularly active, with researchers from the two institutions’ jointly operated Gas Technology Center. The Center is also working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on problems related to natural gas production, CO2 capture and storage, and hydrogen production.
CASTOR is a E16 million European Commission pilot CO2 capture and storage project located at a power plant in Denmark which started operation in March, 2006, and where the Gas Technology Center’s research is at work. SINTEF is also deeply involved in coordinating the first phase of the EU’s DYNAMIS project, where scientists and researchers from 11 European nations and 28 European companies and institutions are evaluating the siting and technology for Europe’s first large-scale fossil fuel plant designed to supply both electricity and hydrogen – with CO2 capture and storage.
“This is an area where we believe we can grow substantially and play an important international role,” says Olav Bolland, an NTNU researcher at the Gas Technology Center. “The Gas Technology Center is the strongest research centre in the world in this area.”

Catching an Elusive Substance

Researchers from an NTNU project called Memfo have recently patented a technology that uses a cost-effective membrane to filter CO2 from power plant emissions, and are working with a European consortium on a project called NanoGloWa – Nanostructured Membranes against Global Warming. “This new technology should be of great interest for coal-fired power plants,” says May-Britt Hägg, an NTNU professor and leader of the Memfo group.
Norwegian expertise is also at work in a domestic project called BIGCO2, a co-operative effort involving the Cicero Centre for Climate Research, the University of Oslo, and the NTNU/SINTEF Gas Technology Center. The BIGCO2 project is funded mainly through the CLIMIT programme; some of its industrial partners include Statoil, Hydro, Statkraft Development, Aker Kværner and General Electric Global Research.
Norway is uniquely suited to studying the storage of CO2 in geologic formations because it is home to the world’s longest running, largest commercial-scale CO2 storage project. Beginning in 1996, Statoil, Norway’s mostly state-owned oil company, began storing CO2 from its Sleipner field in a capped sandstone formation 1,000 metres below the sea floor. More than 10 million tonnes of CO2 have been injected into the formation to date.
Now Norwegian scientists are taking the next step: Gassnova has funded a NOK 2 million project to evaluate the creation of a laboratory where scientists can study CO2 storage, including theall-important issue of leak detection.
“We need to know if we can discover the leak, if it happens, before it causes problems. Can we find out early enough to do something, if there is a leak? And do we have the technology to do something? That’s the front line research right now,” says Chief Scientist Erik Lindeberg of SINTEF Petroleum Research.
Det Norske Veritas (DNV) is also active in the issue of CO2 capture and storage, but from a different approach. The company is working on standards and best practices for the capture, transmission and storage (CCS) of CO2 for the oil and gas industry. “By facilitating these projects … DNV is contributing to the removal of several important barriers in order to realize the full vision of CCS,” says Hans Axel Bratfos, head of DNV’s Cleaner Energy department.

Statoil’s Sleipner field is home to the world’s longest running, largest commercial-scale CO2 storage project. To date, more than 10 million tonnes of CO2 have been injected into a geologic formation 1,000 metres under the sea floor.

The Ultimate Renewable Resource

Norway’s northern location and its long winter nights don’t immediately suggest solar energy to most people, but much of the cutting-edge technology to make solar cells a widespread energy source is being developed in Norwegian laboratories and universities.
Norway is home to the world’s largest producer of solar-grade silicon and wafers for solar applications, the Renewable Energy Corporation, or REC. One of REC’s research projects funded by RENERGI is examining the black surface passivation of industrial solar cells. Solarnor in Oslo uses solar collectors to provide hot water and radiant floor heating. Solarnor researchers also have a RENERGI grant to examine the potential of polymer absorbers for solar thermal energy.
Norway has strong expertise in working with silicon, an important component in solar cell technology. SINTEF and NTNU jointly opened the PV Solar Cell Materials centre in Trondheim in 2006, where research focuses on the entire solar cell production chain. In Kjeller, the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) has as one of its focus areas silicon solar cell design, production and characterization.
Norwegian companies are also investing heavily in the research needed to bring solar power to maturity. Elkem Solar has spent nearly NOK 3 billion on a new technology to produce pure silicon, while NorSun AS has invested NOK 500 million in a production facility for a new solar cell wafer in Årdal.
Norway’s interest in solar cells makes good economic and environmental sense, says Otto Lohne, a professor in NTNU’s Department of Materials Science and Technology who studies silicon for solar cell use. “The development of the solar cell market is increasing by about 40 percent per year,” he says. “The industry used to take the waste from the semi-conductor industry, but now they need as much for solar cells as for PCs.”

Winds of Change

The Norwegian continental shelf has long been an economic boon to Norway’s economy. For centuries, fishermen plucked millions of cod from the shallow waters off the Lofoten Islands; later, the continental shelf provided another source of riches when oil was discovered in Norwegian waters in the late 1960s.

Windmills, here on the island of Hitra, are becoming an increasingly common sight on the Norwegian landscape as Norwegian companies pioneer new wind technologies.

Now, the Stoltenberg government is betting that the Norwegian continental shelf can provide another source of economic growth: the prime minister’s

climate change policy calls for the development of marine wind turbines, particularly on the continental shelf.

Companies are responding with extensive research and development projects to take advantage of the wind power’s market possibilities. The Trondheim-based ScanWinds has developed a wind turbine that is among the world’s largest, fully 90 metres high with 90-metre diameter blades.
The Stavanger-based firm SWAY is pioneering a new approach to wind, with a floating turbine tower. The company’s unique approach won the prestigious DnB Nor Innovation Prize in October, 2006. “This award will hopefully contribute to more people becoming aware of our technology and our solutions. The goal is to develop an answer to future energy demands with the help of clean and renewable energy,” says Eystein Borgen, who developed the SWAY idea, of the prize. SWAY’s first full-scale wind turbine is expected to be completed between 2010 and 2012.

It’s an H2 World

Hydrogen may be one of the simplest elements known to humankind, but many energy researchers hope it can be an important energy carrier in the future. Norwegian researchers have been involved in nearly every aspect of developing this new technology.
One of the largest sources of hydrogen research funding is through RENERGI’s Hydrogen Platform programme. One project based at Statkraft Energi AS is exploring hydrogen from natural gas and wind, while a project at Norsk Hydro is looking at hydrogen from natural gas and biomass. And researchers at NTNU’s Faculty for Engineering Science and Technology are working on a project to produce hydrogen by steam gasification of biomass.
Using hydrogen as an energy carrier, however, poses new challenges, because it must be used and dispensed under high pressure. DNV has a contract from the International Energy Agency on hydrogen safety, while companies such as Raufoss Fuel Systems have developed and manufacture storage for alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas and hydrogen.
While hydrogen for transportation may seem a distant dream, a unique Norwegian joint industry initiative called HyNor is at work creating a hydrogen energy infrastructure along the 580 kilometers from Oslo to Stavanger. In June, 2007, the consortium opened its second filling station outside of Porsgrunn with hydrogen piped in from Hydro Polymers AS in Rafnes. The effort is part of a larger, Scandinavian-wide project, called the Scandinavian Hydrogen Highway Partnership to extend the system through southern Sweden and Denmark.
“Hydrogen can be one of the future’s most important energy carriers for transport. But it is imperative that it be produced from renewable energy resources, or from fossil energy sources where the CO2 emissions have been controlled,” says Steinulf Tungesvik, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

Financing a Renewable Future

Frederic Hauge, head of the Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian environmental watchdog group, drives the Norwegian-made Think hydrogen vehicle to the opening of Norway’s first hydrogen filling station in Stavanger in August 2006. A second station was opened in Porsgrunn in June 2007.

The Stoltenberg white paper calls for increasing the capital for the fund for the promotion of energy efficiency measures and the use of renewable energy by up to NOK 10 billion by 2012. The RENERGI programme, a key government player in funding Norway’s renewable energy resource research and development efforts, has a 2007 budget of NOK 150 million.

Birger Solberg and co-researchers at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences are working on a bioenergy project that has RENERGI support on the use of forest products, such as wood and wood pellets, as a bioenergy source. “The results from our project show that the Norwegian bioenergy market is at a turning point when it comes to being profitable, so that bioenergy can play an important role in the future Norwegian energy market,” he says.
Norway’s 2,200-km long coastline also offers an untapped source of energy in wave power. Wave Energy AS has developed a turbine that can use both small and large waves to generate power. A pilot installation of the structure in Kvitsøy will generate approximately 200 kW, with construction costs estimated at approximately NOK 20 million. The company has won support from Enova, RENERGI and the European Union.
One of the most important players in developing Norway’s renewable energy is the partnership among NTNU, SINTEF, and the Institute for Energy Research (IFE) in the Centre for Renewable Energy. The Centre brings together expertise in all renewable energy sources, from biomass, to wind and wave energy, to small-scale hydroelectric development, to solar energy, and is an important training ground for the next generation of researchers and scientists.
“There’s considerable potential for industry development in Norway based on renewable energy,” says Johan Hustad, leader of the Centre, in NTNU’s Universitetsavisa. “For example, Devold, the company in Møre known as a supplier of clothing to polar explorers, has spawned a spin-off, Devold AMT, which makes glass fiber reinforcements that can be used in windmill blades. The possibilities are always much bigger than we think.”