Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg cut the ribbon Monday on a government-funded, large-scale CCS test center 35 miles northwest of Bergen five years after plans were first announced.
Called Technology Center Mongstad, Stoltenberg said the demonstration facility will attempt to determine the feasibility of the as-yet-unproven CCS technology.
Backers say CCS has the potential to provide a critical transition to a renewable energy future by extending the life of current fossil fuel-burning power plants through removing the carbon dioxide emissions from their flues and pumping them into underground formations.
They also claim it could help European nations reach their CO2 reduction goals, put the EU on target for its 2050 de-carbonization "roadmap" and help reach the international goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
But the technology is expensive and, unlike other CO2-cutting technologies such as wind and solar power, has yet to be commercially deployed.
Participants in the effort include the Norwegian state-owned energy companies Gassnova and Statoil, as well as the multinational Shell and South Africa's Sasol.
Hailed by Stoltenberg in 2007 as Norway's version of the 1960s effort to land a man on the moon, the prime minister called the opening of Technology Center Mongstad a "great and important day."
"We need to find a way to reconcile the need for energy and the need for emission reductions, and carbon capture technology is a key," he said. "Although massive investments in renewables will be made in the years ahead, the world will continue to depend on fossil fuels for many years to come.
"If we are to ensure a sustainable energy supply, our only option is to reduce emissions from coal, gas and oil. This is why the development of carbon capture technology is so vital."
The technology, he added, "may deliver up to 20 percent of the emission reductions needed by 2050."
The main objective of Mongstad is to verify the performance of CCS technologies and to deepen the technical and economic know-how of operating an industrial-scale plant.
The facility will capture and process the greenhouse gas emissions from two nearby polluters, a power plant and an oil refinery. Rather than being pumped underground as a full-scale CCS plant would do, they will instead be released into the atmosphere after processes are tested, officials said.
A decision on a full-scale CCS plant at Mongstad has been postponed several times, and is now foreseen for 2020 at the earliest.
Two types of CCS technologies will be tested at Mongstad -- a chilled ammonia process developed by French company Alstom and an amine "gas sweetening" technology developed by Aker Solutions of Norway.
The unveiling of the CCS plant was not without controversy, however.
Environmentalists who weren't invited to the event gathered outside a fence to denounce CCS technology as a costly and ineffective way to wean Europe away from fossil fuels, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
Green Warriors of Norway leader Kurt Oddekalv said the plant's unveiling was merely a "Hallelujah event" for its backers.
"To capture the smoke from a fire, and then clean it without creating new environmental problems is virtually impossible," he said. "We must change our way of life and get away from oil dependence. The ($1 billion) which the center has cost should rather be spent on public transport."
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