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Carbon dioxide capture and cancer. Full stop at Mongstad

This is a guest post by Geir Hasnes, with further evidence of the retreat of the greens.

In 2006, the Norwegian government embarked on the world’s most ambitious carbon capture project – a system that would capture the CO2 produced at gas-fired power stations. The system had a projected cost of 27 billion NoK, roughly equivalent to US$5 billion. The two power stations concerned are situated at Mongstad near Bergen on the west coast and Kårstø, somewhat further to the south. Mongstad had been chosen as the starting point.

But now the decision to start the actual implementation of the cleaning technology has been postponed. The “moon landing” – Norwegian prime minister Stoltenberg’s name for the CO2 capture project at Mongstad – was suddenly stopped 2 days ago: the moon rocket crashlanded on Friday 30th April. The Norwegian government decided to postpone the project for 4 years.

What has the cost been so far? According to the online edition of Teknisk Ukeblad [Technological Weekly] on 19th April:

In the period 2006-2009 about 350 million [NoK] was spent on planning and preparation of the CO2 capture facility at Kårstø. And about 270 million was spent on planning and preparation of transport and pipeline solutions for CO2.

These figures were from Unni Clausen, Communication Adviser of the Oil and Energy department. She emphasizes that transportation solutions apply equally to Kårstø and Mongstad. And the oil and energy minister Riis-Johansen said to Aftenposten's web edition on 1st May:

We have already spent six billion [NoK] on planning.

What was it that we were going to achieve? From the Impact and consequences assessment of the Climate and Pollution Agency, a press release from 27th August 2007:

The operation of the capture facility will produce some air emissions of ammonia, amines and reaction products of the amines. NOx emissions will not increase beyond what is now discharged from the plants at Mongstad, and the total emissions of CO2 will be somewhat less. Besides the heated cooling water, there will be some discharges to the water of amines, ammonia, sulfuric acid and sulfates.

What in the world? “Emissions of CO2 will be somewhat less”???

Not, “All CO2 is now being cleaned out”???

What have the politicians and the environmentalists been thinking all these years? Or had us ordinary mortals believe?

After hundreds of millions had been spent (we choose to ignore the "billions" of Riis-Johansen, an exaggeration in line with the melting of the Himalayas in 2035), this was the conclusion to the National Institute of Public Health report of 5th May 2009 regarding amine emissions:

Some amines, however, escape into the atmosphere. The relevant amines are compounds which in themselves are not very harmful at the concentrations that would occur around power plants. Amines, however, may also be included in complex chemical reactions in the air and form new substances. A theoretical study shows that some of these may be harmful, depending on the amine used and the extent to which these substances are formed. In particular, one must be aware of the concentration of transformation products that may be carcinogenic."


Despite all the attention around CO2 capture, there is surprisingly little knowledge about the health effects and environmental effects of several compounds that can be formed, says researcher Marit Låg. In the report from the Institute of Public Health has shown specifically that there is very limited understanding of the health effects of so-called nitramines. This will now be examined in experimental studies that will provide the necessary knowledge.

In the Tech Weekly online edition of 19th Feb. 2009 we read:

We can not accept that [power stations] will send out something that is toxic. They can not just push CO2 capture without taking into account safety", the Mayor of Austrheim, Ole Lysø, said to Tech Weekly. He was totally unaware that the CO2 capture project at Mongstad might lead to the emission of harmful amines to the atmosphere."

The article continues

“True enough, the amine technology is known, but it has never been applied in the size required for the power plant. The technology has not been used in open systems where residual gases are released into the atmosphere. In case of emissions to the atmosphere, several substances that are worrying can be formed”, says HSE Coordinator for the in StatoilHydro CO2 capture project at Mongstad, Hege Nilsen.


"We take these challenges seriously. We can not make an investment decision with this hanging over our heads. It is a premise that we will be able to solve this, and if not, the decision about the investment has to be postponed," said the Master Plan project manager for Mongstad, Hans Petter Rebo.

Department leader and Professor at the Dept. of Electrical Power Engineering at NTNU, Eilif Hansen, told the author on 1st May:

"I was on an excursion to the Bergen area with 82 students this week, including a visit to Mongstad. It is really quite frightening to hear about the famous "moon landing” project. Besides the fact that it actually costs quite a bit of money, they are working with a technology for carbon capture where they are concerned that amine emissions (I must confess that I do not know much about amines ..) may be a health hazard. But they assured us that they were working to solve these problems, so it should not be dangerous ... I asked as usual if anyone could tell me how much anthropogenic emissions accounted for in relation to natural emissions, which we actually breathe out. And as usual, no one could answer it."

One can only gasp at the fact that the environmentalists are angered by the delay in a totally unnecessary CO2 capture project because waste substances have major health and environmental consequences.

We, on the other hand, are exceedingly happy that a decision on the CO2 capture project has been postponed for 4 years, which in reality may mean that it is cancelled entirely, and also that it has not cost more than the 6 billion referred to by minister Riis-Johansen. It is, after all, less than the 8 billion annual cost of the totally unfounded climate tax we pay on our energy consumption – one third of the total energy cost, despite Norwegian energy production being from hydropower and therefore 100% free of CO2.

What should our tax money be spent on now, I wonder?

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Reader Comments (22)

What an incredible waste of money, when will these idiots learn?

May 3, 2010 at 8:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark Nutley

Look chaps, you mustn't get the impression that we have realised that the whole CO2 thing is a scam that is not even affordable. No, no, no. We really, really want to carry out this earth-saving project but, you know how it is, all those pesky tremendously important health-and-safety protocols are tying our hands.

May 3, 2010 at 8:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan E

Replacing a harmless life-promoting trace gas by others that are a potential health hazard - Bravo, guys!

May 3, 2010 at 8:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Wright

Bishop, are you sure that this scheme isn't some nordic joke. If not they must be further into the interior of Cloud Cuckoo Land than even I thought possible.
Burning millions of tons of coal, oil or gas produces even more millions of tons of carbon dioxide. If this is to be treated chemically it will require millions of tons of some reactant(from where and at what cost?) and the reaction product(s) will have to be both environmentally friendly and disposed of somewhere.
One of the major problems that we face is that our Leaders are both innumerate and have no scientific training. Lady Thatcher would have rejected this hare brained scheme out of hand!

May 3, 2010 at 9:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterGordon

To pump CO2 underground requires energy, which means burning more energy in a thermal plant, which means more CO2 to be pumped and sequestered. And as the aquifer fills the pumping pressure increases and so too the work to be done in pumping. The oil companies must love this idea.

May 3, 2010 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommentercriticalThinker

Besides the heated cooling water, there will be some discharges to the water of amines, ammonia, sulfuric acid and sulfates.

These are all natural byproducts of the combustion process. The sulfur products are from trace amounts of sulfur in the Natural Gas - much less than coal. The amines and ammonia result from the Nitrogen component of air (80%) reacting with other combustion products.

I'm surprised that they don't have a lot of Nitrogen oxides as well.

What is relevant is whether the amounts of trace byproducts are significantly more than a normal gas fired power station - gas turbine or gas-steam process? I expect not.

I suspect - based on my little knowledge of what process they use to remove or reduce CO2 - that this is more of an excuse to not do it (for economic reasons ?) rather than a deep flaw in the process they are proposing.

I again put my hand up to being someone who once wrote complex computer models for power station emissions (for the EPA). However I'm probably a bit rusty now.

May 3, 2010 at 10:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterTilde Guillemet

KoN? Is that short for Koh-i-noor? I always liked their drawing pencils. Mountain of light in Persian, I think.

May 3, 2010 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohnGalt

Perhaps Geg Clark, Tim Yeo, Zac Goldsmith and David Cameron will be informed of this and pull back from their stupid carbon caputre policy. Sadly I doubt it.

May 3, 2010 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

No need to worry Peter, carbon capture is self-defeating and simply not viable.

May 3, 2010 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered CommentercriticalThinker

Tilde Guillemet (above): What is relevant is whether the amounts of trace byproducts are significantly more than a normal gas fired power station - gas turbine or gas-steam process? I expect not.

Very interesting observation, Tilde. It has a ring of reality... sadly. A cover, as you suggest, for a strategic retreat?

May 3, 2010 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Carr

Carbon capture plans won't be derailed by Kingsnorth, insists Miliband

Energy and climate change secretary says viable CCS technologies will be pursued with 'great urgency'

Nobuo Tanaka, head of the IEA, said... "Our road map says we'll need 100 large-scale projects by 2020, 850 by 2030 and 3400 in 2050." This is consistent with the G8 leaders' call in Hokkaido to announce 20 large-scale demonstration projects identified by 2010 with a view towards commercialisation by 2020.

The IEA's road map requires global investment of about $56bn (£35bn) per year for CCS in the next decade in developed countries, with up to a further $2.5bn in developing countries. In total, the IEA has estimated that the world needs to invest $45tn in low-carbon technologies by 2050 to make the required cuts.

Enhanced oil recovery

May 3, 2010 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered Commenteranon

'Postpone' is a face-saving word for 'forget'.

Don't expect these people to publicly cross over onto the sane side of the aisle. But let's be generous and pretend not to see them as they quietly slip out of the door at the back of the church.

This has got to be our strategy - to help and encourage them to quietly postpone, then forget these ideas then forget they even had these ideas.

May 3, 2010 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

As usual, Jack, right on.

May 3, 2010 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

John Galt, the Koh-I-Noor is the diamond that is in the center of the Maltese Cross that is on the front of the crown made for England's current queen's mother. Tsk, tsk that a Yank should have tp point that out.

May 3, 2010 at 4:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterRayG


Diamonds! Nature's way of capturing Carbon. Where do we get the research grant?

May 3, 2010 at 6:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

The talk about amines and sulfuric acid made me suspicious, as a chemist, about exactly what method they are testing for carbon capture. I always thought it was something like direct compression of flue gas and re-injection on-site or nearby.

But no. A little checking confirmed my suspicion about method. Here's a short report of the UK technology:, which appears to be the Norse method as well.

They're taking the combustion gas stream and passing it directly through a bed of amines. These amines react with CO2, SO2, SO3 and NOx (x=2 or 2.5), producing an amine solution rich in these trapped gases.

Here's a reaction example for CO2:

2R-NH2 + CO2 ---> R-NH-CO2(-) + RNH3(+)
amine carbamate ammonium ion

In words, that's amine plus carbon dioxide yields carbamate.

The reaction is reversible and so this gemisch of a solution is later heated to release all the CO2. The released CO2 is captured, compressed into liquid form and exported somewhere else for disposal, presumably injection into old oil wells. The amine solution,now free of CO2, is re-circulated.

The amines and sulfuric acid releases come during the heating and recovery stages.

I'm negatively impressed with this technology. Systematic inefficiencies always occur (Thermodynamics mandates this), and so there will be inevitable wastes and losses from this process. The technology is messy, and I can see how some materials can escape during all the processing steps. The amines will finally break down, chemically, and will need to be repurified. The concentrated wastes will require disposal.

The amines inadvertently released around a power plant, for example, can react with aerial ozone to produce a steady flux of nitrosamines in the ambient air. This being true, there will, of course, be an airborne downstream plume. Nitrosamines are well known oncogenic agents (mutagens, carcinogens), and this is likely what the Norse are talking of.

The Law of Unintended Consequences is clearly in operation here. The technology to remove CO2 -- hardly a serious pollutant in any conventional sense -- is now the source of new emissions and wastes that are serious pollutants in every sense. Your environmentalists at work for a better Earth.

May 3, 2010 at 6:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterPat Frank

May 3, 2010 at 9:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdrian

May 3, 2010 at 9:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdrian

".. there will be some discharges to the water of amines, ...These are all natural byproducts of the combustion process. ... The amines...result from the Nitrogen component of air (80%) reacting with other combustion products." Not so. Aqueous amines are the solvent used to dissolve the CO2 out of the power station flue gas. Then you reverse the reaction to give yourself a stream of substantially pure CO2 and recycle the solvent to use again. Inevitably, however, there will be some amine lost to the CO2-depleted flue gas, which will be dischargd to the atmosphere, and some amine lost to the "substantially pure CO2". This is all elementary stuff and it's preposterous that it wasn't taken into account from the beginning; there are plenty of good chemical engineers in Norway. The people in charge of this project must be bloody fools I'm afraid.

May 3, 2010 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

This must be some part of game theory. The cleverest man in the room says that X is a bad idea altogether. The others decide to continue with X anyway.

From that moment onwards, the cleverest man has no input to idea X as it evolves - anything he says is seen as back-seat driving and "I told you so".

This is an iterative process - as X evolves then wise and practical people fall by the wayside - leaving only irrational fools running the project.

May 3, 2010 at 10:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes


When you say "England" you are wrong. Remember that the host of this marvellous blog is based in Scotland, which is part of the UK, which is what you should have said.

May 9, 2010 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterCraig

I think there is need for some clarification here.

The project at Mongstad is planned in two stages. First the construction of industrial scale test units using two different technologies for CO2-capture (amine and refrigerated ammonia). Then follows construction of a full scale unit, using the technology that has shown most promise during the tests.

I am as sceptical as most of the other bloggers with respect to CO2-capture, but as an engineer you must admit that the approach is entirely sound, gaining experience and data from suitably sized semi-industrial units before proceeding in full scale.

The construction of the test units is proceeding as planned, and reading the draft for the coming financial bill (in Norwegian) there is no doubt of the full commitment to this quite substantial investment.

What has been changed is, that the target date for investment decision to go ahead with the full scale unit has been postponed from 2012 to 2014. That is, the plan for what to do several years from now has been changed (and may change again), while the current project is going ahead full speed.

This postponement may be, as several bloggers have suggested, a cover-up and a a prelude to staged abolition of an (over-)ambitious project. But there is actually no trace of a justification for such suspicions in the published texts, and one might as well take at face value the stated realization that more time will be required (perhaps for testing, perhaps for getting more emission and environmental impact data) before making a major investment decision.

As stated before, I am no fan of the carbon capture idea at the present stage of knowledge. Still i have some respect for the Norwegian decision to go ahead and try it out. The experience is certain to put any future discussions on the subject on a much more solid footing, and the project cannot fail to generate new knowledge that could not be obtained otherwise. Whether it is worth the very substantial costs, that you may certainly doubt, but nobody can say for sure today.

Jun 8, 2010 at 4:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Graversen

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