Norway wants to someday capture all of its carbon emissions and inject them back into the Earth. It's a bold, incredibly difficult process, but the country recently achieved a major breakthrough.
If you drive through Norway, you won’t find many landfills. That’s because the country burns most of its garbage in massive incinerators.
This allows Norway to conserve land and reduce soil and water contamination. It also generates a significant portion of the country’s energy supply. In Oslo, for example, 60,000 homes are heated with the energy generated from the Klemetsrud incineration plant.
It seems like a win-win. But there’s one glaring catch: burning garbage pollutes the environment. Once all that food, plastic, packaging, clothing, and more is burned, gases are released that contaminate the air. Many of these pollutants are also greenhouse gases that get stuck in the atmosphere and warm the planet.
That same Klemetsrud incineration plant releases 300,000 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year. Globally, that’s a pretty small amount — carbon emissions exceeded 9.795 gigatonnes in 2014 (a gigatonne is 1 billion tonnes). But any amount of carbon reduction gets the world closer to the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
But Norway is working toward a solution. Recently, a carbon capture system was attached to the Klemetsrud plant’s exhaust to trap carbon emissions before they could escape into the atmosphere.
The first test run was a big success.
"We had very promising results," Oscar Graff, head of carbon capture, utilization and storage at Aker Solutions, which oversaw the test, told Reuters.
However, there’s still a long way to go. Currently, the system can only capture 2,000 tonnes of carbon a year and building out the whole system to capture all the carbon will be extremely expensive. But Norway intends to move forward with the program, and hopes to develop better technology through its investments for other countries to use.
By 2020, it can have a fully efficient system in place.
The Paris climate agreement encouraged countries to improve existing carbon capture systems, which are often prohibitively expensive, and Norway could help to bring prices down by innovating new methods.
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After carbon is captured, it is then often injected into deep geological formations. There are risks of potential leakage and geological disruption, especially within ocean floors.
Carbon capture technology can also be used on traditional energy plants such as coal, and can theoretically capture up to 90% of carbon emissions (no system is that effective yet).
Ultimately, carbon capture is more of a band-aid solution to rising carbon emissions. It doesn’t address the underlying problem — the use of fossil fuels. And it can cause other contaminants to proliferate, further polluting the environment.
But climate change is the chief environmental problem facing the world today. Reducing carbon and other greenhouse gases is the biggest priority.
Carbon capture is just one facet of Norway’s goal of becoming “climate neutral” by 2030. By then, hopefully carbon joins landfills as a relic of Norway’s past.