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Regions in focus: Building the case for CCUS in Portugal and France

The Rhône Valley’s vineyards are the toast of wine lovers everywhere. The region, which stretches from central France towards the Mediterranean Sea, is less well known for its clusters of industry that provide essential products but collectively emit around 18.5 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year.

To the south west, Portugal’s Lusitanian Basin – a sedimentary basin created when the North Atlantic Ocean formed millions of years ago – straddles the mainland and continental shelf from Porto to Lisbon, where target industries for carbon capture technology emit just under 10Mt of CO2 annually.

Both regions have recently undergone detailed studies by the STRATEGY CCUS project, which aims to support large-scale decarbonisation in southern and eastern Europe’s industrial zones with an emphasis on protecting local economies and involving stakeholders in development plans.

Providing viable and affordable CO2 transport and storage infrastructure will be key to shaping carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) networks for each region. So, could a shared approach provide the impetus for CCUS deployment and will these plans gain the support needed to become reality?

Rhône Valley, France

The Rhône Valley region hosts 48 industrial emitters with 83% of its annual CO2 emissions coming from four industry clusters centred on Lyon, Montélimar, Beaucaire and Marseille. By far the biggest hitters are iron and steel producers, cement plants and refinery operations, in that order.

The Marseille grouping tops the emissions chart, which is somewhat fortuitous given that its big emitters lie within a 10km zone and close to existing oil pipelines – some of which are now unused – traversing eastern France; these can be repurposed to carry CO2 captured from industry to geological storage options. The port of Marseille, France’s main trading seaport, offers a shipping route to offshore CO2 storage, if that was to become available.

The Lyon, Montélimar and Beaucaire industry clusters can also take advantage of these infrastructures, as well as a developed network of river channels, for taking CO2 to storage sites or to CO2 utilisation industries. The region’s remaining carbon emitters are located further away, so more work is needed to identify suitable transport links.

A key challenge lies in the region’s development of its own geological CO2 storage capacity. Around 86Mt of onshore storage has been identified in the shape of four deep saline aquifers, but they lie beneath the wetland area of Camargue, a protected coastal site of outstanding natural beauty and value. Offshore storage capacities are foreseen off Marseille but are yet to be fully established.

Dr Fernanda Veloso, of BRGM and project coordinator for STRATEGY CCUS, explains: “One of the Rhône Valley’s main hurdles to CCUS is access to CO2 storage. We need to know more about the offshore options, and the onshore asset is not ideal. However, other options do exist, such as sites identified in the Paris Basin area by previous studies and looked at again by our project. Making use of this asset would involve transporting CO2 overland via Lyon and could even support the case for a shared CO2 transport infrastructure that links the Marseille and Lyon clusters en route to the storage.”

The Paris Basin, France’s largest onshore sedimentary basin, is one of the eight regions being studied by STRATEGY CCUS, which include the Rhône Valley and the Lusitanian Basin. Many potential geological CO2 storage sites – deep saline aquifers and depleted hydrocarbon fields – have been identified there with an estimated capacity of more than 330Mt.

Another CO2 transport and storage option exists, which would involve thinking even bigger.

Cécile Dumas, an economist at IFPEN and one of the STRATEGY CCUS partners, says: “A bolder storage proposition could involve the cross-border transport and injection of CO2 into well-known geological stores, such as beneath the North Sea, where the storage process has already been proven by the large-scale Norwegian CCS projects, Sleipner and Snøhvit. A Rhône Valley transport corridor could connect the region with neighbouring countries, such as Italy, Spain and North Africa.”

As yet, there are no CO2 capture and storage projects in the pipeline for the Rhône Valley, something which the STRATEGY CCUS consortium hopes to change with its CCUS “roadmaps” due out in the first half of 2022. However, there are some carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) initiatives already planned or operating, and a 2013 feasibility study has explored potential pathways between industrial CO2 emitters and end users.

For example, the multinational iron and steel producer ArcelorMittal has its sights on converting CO2 to ethanol, as fuel or solvent, at its Fos-sur-Mer plant. Meanwhile, the French cement and aggregate company, Vicat, has introduced alternative fuels to its operations and an innovative process, which combines captured CO2 with cement dust to create a lightweight aggregate with interesting insulating properties.

It is clear that bringing all players together, including industry, local government and local communities, is an essential part of any on-the-ground developments and this has been the STRATEGY CCUS project’s intention from the start.

Dr Veloso says: “We’ve now held two sets of stakeholder meetings, which we reshaped as online discussions due to the Covid crisis. The positive feedback on the need for and viability of CCUS in the Rhône Valley has been heartening. Clearly, CO2 storage remains a challenge. Stakeholders are favourable towards offshore storage but onshore would present issues. If we can solve the storage question then we are on our way to a fully operational CCUS network for this region.”

Lusitanian basin, Portugal

The geology of the Lusitanian basin has enviable CO2 storage opportunities with 3.9 gigatonnes (Gt) of estimated capacity; 3.1Gt of offshore storage and the remainder being onshore sites, which are further advanced in storage readiness than the offshore offering.

Of the 20 emitting sites in the region, responsible for more than 40% of Portugal’s CO2 emissions from stationary sources, those most in need of this storage asset are the cement and lime industries. Glass manufacturers, conveniently sited in a well-defined cluster, would also benefit, while a CCU business case could exist for the pulp and paper sector.

A 2015 analysis had already identified the cement industry as the most promising route for deploying CCS in Portugal, and this has been confirmed by studies conducted by STRATEGY CCUS partners. The area they have focused on, and targeted for CO2 storage, includes five cement factories.

According to the STRATEGY CCUS team in Portugal, CCUS has huge potential in the Lusitanian basin. In some cases, industries are located quite close to the geological formations that can store their carbon. Where CO2 transport is needed for longer distances, many industrial installations have access to railway networks and some can make use of ports or piers. Most are in the vicinity of a natural gas pipeline network, which means that the existing corridor could be partially used to build the infrastructure for CO2 transport to onshore storage.

Júlio Carneiro, a geologist at the University of Évora and STRATEGY CCUS partner, says: “While infrastructure is not yet available, previous studies have defined pipeline corridors and recent analysis suggests that the ports of Figueira da Foz, Setúbal and Sines could also offer CO2 transport options. Offshore storage options near Figueira da Foz could even be connected directly by pipeline as they are located relatively near the coastline.”

However, none of that matters unless the area’s industries buy into CCUS. Studies show that businesses are concerned about investment costs and the impact on marketplace competition in the absence of any policy incentives for carbon capture or construction of a shared infrastructure. There is also uncertainty about whether public or private funding would form part of the picture.

Hard-to-abate sectors do see CCUS as the only solution after other mitigation measures have been adopted; the cement sector, for one, with its large share of process-related CO2 emissions and where all other options for reducing emissions have been exhausted.

Additionally, other sectors, such as glass, are under pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of their products in a short time frame and they view CCUS as a feasible approach. However, the European rules for accounting the captured CO2 in these contexts are not yet clear, in particular for non-biogenic sources, and this uncertainty will need to be removed for future business models to be developed.

As previous attempts to deliver CCS in Europe have shown, it is essential that local communities and other stakeholders are part of the decision-making process. As in the other STRATEGY CCUS regions, this has been an important facet of the project.

Patrícia Fortes, of NOVA University and part of the STRATEGY CCUS team, says: “We’ve held two stakeholder workshops, in November 2020 and April this year, to present the project vision and preliminary CCUS scenarios for Portugal. Although the view of most stakeholders is positive towards CCUS in emission reduction scenarios for regional industries, not all participants are convinced of the relevance of geological storage to achieve carbon neutrality, suggesting the need for more utilisation instead. However, it is expected that, due to hard-to-decarbonise sectors, the mitigation options will be limited and that reliance on CO2 storage may be required.”

Paulo Rocha, STRATEGY CCUS partner from cement company CIMPOR, adds: “By developing detailed scenarios for rolling out CCUS over different timeframes, which we will share in due course, we hope that we can show industry and other stakeholders that the technology is not only viable as well as necessary here but can bring economic benefits too.”

On that economic note, there is one national development that could initiate a market for captured CO2 in the Lusitanian basin region.

Ricardo Aguiar from the Portuguese Directorate General for Energy and Geology (DGEG) explains: “The National Hydrogen Strategy, EN-H2, has mapped out plans for the production of synthetic renewable fuels, such as methane, methanol and jet fuel based on renewable hydrogen. Such processes would require captured CO2. Several industrial initiatives are being announced and the national government intends to launch a support scheme this year. An annual CO2 capture rate of around 1Mt would be needed by 2030, rising to around 8Mt by 2050.”

Given this fairly promising picture for CCUS, do the partners expect the technology to get off the ground soon as a component of Portugal’s path to net zero?

Rocha concludes: “Our third and final set of workshops with regional stakeholders across the STRATEGY CCUS project is planned for the autumn, where different regional scenarios for CCUS delivery will be presented and discussed in detail. We aim to find solutions to some of the outstanding challenges and, ultimately, smooth a viable and swift path to significant carbon reductions for industrialised areas in southern and eastern Europe. Climate action isn’t optional, it is now an unavoidable function of any economy where carbon-emitting industries play a role.”

Interviews and words: Indira Mann, SCCS

Photo: View over Marseille by Florian Wehde on Unsplash