Holland Wants Your CO2

A group of Dutch politicians and scientists proposes making the country a hub for underground storage of Europe's greenhouse gases

With Europe looking to drastically cut carbon emissions, Holland has come up with an interim solution. Greenhouse gases from northwestern Europe could be pumped to the Netherlands for storage in depleted gas fields there.

It's one thing to promise drastic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. But as many countries in Europe are discovering, it is quite another thing to actually fulfill those promises. Merely reducing CO2 emissions isn't nearly enough.

That, at least, is what Holland's Energy Transition Platform -- a group of politicians and scientists working towards a complete transition to sustainable energies -- has been saying for years. And now, the group has started looking abroad. Holland, says Catrinus Jepma, a professor at the University of Groningen and chair of the Energy Transition Platform's "Clean Fossil" committee, could become a regional leader in underground CO2 storage. All that's needed is a pipeline network to deliver the greenhouse gas to Dutch storage facilities.

The idea, Jepma explained last week, is to have CO2 from Belgium and north-western Germany -- the region where fully half of all European carbon emissions is produced -- piped to a central hub inside Holland. From there, the carbon can be piped to Dutch greenhouses, where it is already being used to stimulate plant growth, or to industries in need of carbon. The lion's share, however, would be pumped into underground and undersea storage sites located in depleted gas fields.

"Our country is perfect for such an infrastructure," Jepma said when presenting his proposals last week.

Jepma's working group says that Holland could easily become Europe's frontrunner in CO2 storage. The country has already developed the technical know-how for storing vast quantities of CO2 -- in order to meet European Union emissions reduction goals (a cut of 30 percent by 2020 relative to 1990 levels), Dutch scientists have calculated that it would need to store between 50 and 60 million tons of CO2 in addition to reducing emissions.

According to Jepma, the only thing that needs to be done to make his CO2 hub a reality is to build an adequate transportation network -- and reduce the price of capturing CO2. The technology exists, Jepma says, but even in 10 years he anticipates that storage -- including capturing and transportation -- will cost in the neighborhood of �30 to �40 per ton.

Still, storage is increasingly looking like a feasible interim solution. Ten CO2 storage facilities in Europe are scheduled for completion by 2015 and there are plans in the works to require power plants to capture their CO2 emissions.

Jepma's plan has an additional advantage as well. The depletion of Dutch gas fields has meant that the country, the majority of which is already located below sea level, has sunk even further. Injecting CO2 into the empty fields could halt that process, scientists hope.

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