Energy giants Equinor, Shell and Total have signed off on a NKr7bn ($685m) plan to build what would be the world’s first carbon capture and storage (CCS) network, the Northern Lights project off Norway.

The flagship CCS development – the lead-off well for which was drilled late last year – could eventually capture and store up to 5 million tonnes of CO2 from heavy-emitters around the EU in a giant saline aquifer south of the Troll offshore oil & gas field in the North Sea.

"The Northern Lights project could become the first step to develop a value chain for CCS, which is vital to reach the global climate goals of the Paris Agreement,” said Anders Opedal, executive vice president for Technology, Projects & Drilling at Equinor.

“Development of CCS projects will also represent new activities and industrial opportunities for Norwegian and European industries.

"This unique project opens for decarbonisation of industries with limited opportunities for CO2 reductions. It can be the first CO2 storage for Norwegian and European industries, and can support goals to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.”

A final investment decision on the project plan, which has been submitted to Norway’s Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, hinges on approval by the Norwegian authorities and rubber-stamping by the EFTA Surveillance Authority.

Syrie  Crouch, Shell’s vice president for CCS, said: “CCS is a crucial technology to help society and economies thrive through the energy transition. We appreciate the leadership shown by the Norwegian government to accelerate the development of CCS value chains and believe that the Northern Lights CO2  transport and storage solution has the potential to unlock investment in capture projects across Europe.”

Total Gas Renewables & Power president Philippe Sauquet stated: “Today,  more than ever, we are willing to maintain our efforts on the development of the CCS technology which is needed to reach the EU carbon neutrality goals and is fully part of [our] new climate ambition to get to net zero by 2050.”

The project will be developed in stages, with phase one developing the infrastructure to y to transport, inject and store up to 1.5 million tonnes of CO2  per year.

Once operational in 2024, Northern Lights would work like this: liquified and pressurised CO2 would be loaded at the “capture site” – such as a factory, plant or refinery – onto specially-designed ships that would shuttle it out to an island-based terminal at Naturgassparken, off the west coast of Norway, near Bergen.

There, the CO2 would be offloaded and bunkered in temporary storage tanks before being transported by pipeline out to site and injected into a subsurface reservoir – 2,700 metres below the seafloor on the southern stretch of the Troll field – where it could be stored indefinitely.

The Northern Lights system would allow for further phases to expand capacity, underwritten by investments “triggered by market demand” from large CO2  emitters across Europe, said Equinor.