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Regions in focus: CCUS potential in West Macedonia and the Ebro basin

In recent months, the Covid-19 crisis has eclipsed discussion of climate change and its escalating impact. However, the next round of United Nations climate talks (COP26) rescheduled for November 2021 will shine a light on progress being made by governments worldwide on tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

In southern and eastern Europe, opportunities for a key climate technology are being explored by the STRATEGY CCUS project. Our scientists have been assessing eight regions for their potential to deploy carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) – a collection of technologies that can massively reduce carbon emissions from high emitters, such as industry and power plants.

In the first of our features focusing on these regions, we look at the Ebro basin in Spain and West Macedonia in Greece, where industry clusters and infrastructure provide both a challenge and a solution.

Ebro basin, Spain

The Ebro basin region in north-east Spain hosts the Tarragona industrial zone at the centre of a wider 150km area. This cornucopia of CO2 emitters includes chemicals, cement, ceramics and paper producers alongside other facilities, such as fossil fuel power generation.

Paula Canteli, from Spain’s Geological Survey IGME, says: “We’ve worked closely with project partners at research organisation CIEMAT to build a detailed picture of the region, identifying 25 facilities with annual emissions of more than 100 kilotonnes and one large-scale emitter due for closure.

“Collectively, in 2017, these sites generated a total of 10.5 million tonnes of CO2. The three biggest emitter groups – power generation and the chemical and cement industries – account for 80% of the area’s total annual emissions.”

Capturing the CO2 produced by these sites is the first step in tackling these emissions. The compressed and liquefied gas can then be transported by road, rail, ship or pipeline to one of two destinations – long-term underground storage in deep geological formations or facilities where CO2 is used to make useful products.

Canteli explains: “The Ebro basin has very favourable geological CO2 storage potential, with up to 21 deep saline aquifer formations already identified by our previous studies. The ALGECO2 project identified these structures from which seven have been selected with an estimated capacity of more than 50 Mt each. The amount and quality of the data for the stores are relatively good.”

The Ebro region also offers several opportunities for CO2 usage, such as different food and drink industries and the production of synthetic fuels and chemicals.

A variety of transport infrastructure could be brought into play for moving large volumes of CO2 from source to end point. The area is well connected with three international ports – Tarragona, Barcelona and Castellón – with gas liquefaction and regasification infrastructure at Barcelona’s port.

There is a good road network that can link industrial sites with potential CO2 stores and there is also the possibility of using railway for some industries. Additionally, an extensive pipeline network is operated by the national company, ENAGAS, which also happens to be a key player in CCS and geoenergy projects.

The picture is good so far for making progress on CCUS but are there any hurdles? Canteli says discussions have been positive with the different industry sectors – emitters and potential users – plus local and national authorities, workforces, researchers, NGOs and regional media.

She says: “We carried out 14 interviews and the main conclusion from all sectors was that CCUS is viewed as a relevant player for the decarbonisation process. However, industries pointed to the need for clear regulations from governments and support through investment.

“In Spain, we have useful real-life experience of CO2 storage thanks to the Hontomín pilot project in Burgos. Technical and safety aspects are obviously essential. Also key to the success of the project is better and more communication with citizens and society in general.”

West Macedonia, Greece

These findings are mirrored in West Macedonia, Greece, where the Centre for Research & Technology Hellas (CERTH) has led this part of the STRATEGY CCUS study.

Pavlos Tyrologou, from CERTH, says: “We carried out 14 interviews with regional and local stakeholders and, while most were not very familiar with CCUS technology, they did express interest in supporting its application in the West Macedonia area. This engagement gave us the opportunity to provide basic information about CCUS and record any concerns, expectations and ambitions concerning its implementation in the region.”

West Macedonia in north-west Greece shares borders with Albania and North Macedonia and includes the regional units of Florina, Grevena, Kastoria and Kozani. The region is well known for its ample resources, including lignite and ores, while forests rich in biodiversity account for 50% of its surface area.

The lignite deposits and open pit mines feed the Ptolemaida V Power Station operated by the Public Power Corporation Inc (PPC). According to the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register, PPC emitted around 17.8 Mt of CO2 in West Macedonia during 2018. A new unit being built at the Ptolemaida plant, with a 30-year lifespan, will be CO2 capture ready – good news given that the plant is expected to emit around 4.5 Mt of CO2 annually.

West Macedonia also hosts a lime plant run by CaO Hellas Inc., which generates between 25,000 and 45,000 tonnes of CO2 per year depending on demand.

Tyrologou explains: “STRATEGY CCUS chose West Macedonia as one of our eight ‘promising regions’ due to the region’s high CO2 emissions, mainly from the lignite-fed power plants, but also because of its strong potential for geologically storing CO2 deep underground.”

Photo: Ptolemaida V Power Station, Public Power Corporation S.A -Hellas

CERTH’s studies of geological formations in West Macedonia have identified several suitable geological CO2 stores; in particular, within the Mesohellenic Trough. The Pentalofos Formation has an estimated CO2 storage capacity of *1.27 gigatonnes while the Eptachori Formation could potentially store around 0.16 Gt.  The deepest point for storage is around 2.5 km below ground. These stores are potential gamechangers in the region’s efforts to move to a net zero carbon footing – if industry and government can successfully join the dots.

Fortunately, West Macedonia is well connected by railway, highways and northern Greece’s largest city and port, Thessaloniki. Captured CO2 can be transported to end users or storage sites using an interstate pipeline network or a combination of trucks and tankers.

The Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), a natural gas pipeline traversing West Macedonia to the north of Ptolemaida, opened in 2019. The gas grid operator, DESFA, also has plans to expand its gas network in West Macedonia over the next ten years. However, this will depend on the development, or not, of regional natural gas-fired power stations.

The Ptolemaida V Power Station complex is just 140 km from Thessaloniki while the port of Alexandroupolis is 450 km distant. Both ports have oil and gas terminals that provide the option of adding CO2 terminals with storage facilities. From there, shipping can provide transport for longer distances or to CO2 storage networks overseas.

In June, the STRATEGY CCUS project consortium and its external advisers faced a challenging decision – to select three of its eight “promising” regions for more detailed CCUS roadmaps. The chosen trio included Spain’s Ebro basin. The remaining regions, including West Macedonia, will have less intense studies that will nonetheless provide their governments and industry with feasible scenarios for delivering CCUS over 10, 20 and 30-year timescales.

*1 gigatonne, or 1 billion tonnes, of CO2 eq is equivalent to the amount of CO2 sequestered by 16,535,211,733 tree seedlings grown for 10 years (calculation: https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator. Estimates are approximate).

Top image: Tarragona industrial complex courtesy of REPSOL