CO2 free Svalbard under way

CO2 free Svalbard under way

Top image: Last week the first trial drilling for finding the best CO2 depository sediments started along the road towards the airport. Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS.

The vision of a CO2-free Svalbard by 2025 is becoming a reality. Last week the first trial drilling for finding the best CO2 depository sediments started. This study will be implemented in the UNIS course portfolio next year.

1 October 2007
Text: Eva Therese Jenssen

Last week UNIS, together with Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani (SNSK), Gassnova and Conoco Phillips, took the first step towards realizing the vision of a Svalbard free of man-made CO2 emissions by 2025.

A core drilling of the bedrocks beneath Longyearbyen started last Thursday, to estimate whether or not the bedrock contains the right sedimentary layers for depositing CO2. It is the first time drilling for CO2 deposits have been done in Norway.

– This is an important first step in our aspiration to make Longyearbyen CO2 free. If the drilling and the following geophysical underground exploration reveal positive results, we have found a local site to store the CO2 that is captured in Longyearbyen, says Alvar Braathen, professor in geology at UNIS.

Porous sandstone topped by shale
The drilling will go down to a 1000 meters beneath the ground surface and this first trial drilling will last until the end of October. Each day the drill will advance about 25 meters down into the bedrock.

The first 100 meters consist of permafrost, but after that several different sediments will be encountered. The cores that are taken are duly identified and logged by two UNIS geology students.

Diabasodden, where shale layers are both over and under porous sandstone layer, the ideal layer to store CO2

The sediment layers one hope to find in Longyearbyen, are visible above ground at other locations in Svalbard, such as Diabasodden. With shale layers both under and over layers of porous sandstone would be ideal for depositing CO2. (Ill.: UNIS).

The CO2 project will be integrated in the UNIS course portfolio during 2008, where students can actively partake in the research of CO2 deposition and cleansing.

The hope is that the sediment analysis will show that the bedrock has the right combination of sandstone and shale composites, so that the captured CO2 will be injected in sandstone layers that are topped by shale layers, which ensures that no CO2 emissions can escape up to the surface. Next summer a second core drilling will take place further into the Advent valley, northeast of Longyearbyen. This drill hole is aimed on testing the best site for CO2 injection and storage.

– With the thick succession of sedimentary rocks of Spitsbergen, many units of which have the potential to be of good quality for storage, we are optimistic, says Braathen.

– Our target for the drilling is a 300 meter thick sandstone unit that we will drill into at 800 meters depth around Longyearbyen. If this unit has good storage qualities, it should be capable of holding significant amounts of CO2.

A Svalbard project
Almost all energy on Svalbard is produced by coal power plants, and they emit vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, about 200 000 tons per year. In addition to the power plant in Longyearbyen, the Russian settlement Barentsburg has a coal power plant.

By establishing that CO2 can indeed be captured and stored deep into the Svalbard geological structures, Norway will have taken a great step towards making the Arctic archipelago free of man-made CO2 emissions in 15 years. The Russian authorities in Barentsburg have indicated that they are planning building a new, more environment-friendly power plant in a few years, and if the CO2 project turns out to be feasible, Barentsburg might implement the same technology as Longyearbyen.

The plan
It was in October 2006 that UNIS director Gunnar Sand and Alvar Braathen launched the vision of a CO2-free Svalbard by 2025. The vision, now having taken a big step towards reality, has several phases towards the goal.

2007-2008: A new reserve power plant, based on bio fuels will be built in Longyearbyen.
2012-2015: The main power plant will get CO2 cleansing, a technology that will be commercially available around 2012. The caught CO2 gasses will be deposited at 1000 meters into the bedrock on Svalbard. This technique will be available for the other communities on Svalbard also.
2015-2025: All cars and snow scooters are converted from gas to hydrogen fuel.


– The perspective is very intriguing; however, we have to remember that we all will have to give something to reach such ambitious goals, says Braathen.

– On the technical side, it is highly likely that we will have access to the required technology. Therefore, in the end, the vision of a CO2 free Svalbard is in many ways both a research as well as society program that is admissible if funding and enthusiasm can be found. The bonus if we succeed is high – Svalbard and Longyearbyen as the worlds leading Green Society, he concludes.

The Geological Survey of Norway (NGU), SINTEF, University of Bergen and SNSK are, together with UNIS, involved in the scientific activity of the project. Financially, the project is sponsored by UNIS, Gassnova, ConocoPhillips and SNSK.

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