Mitsubishi, Mitsui to team up for CO2 storage off Australia

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Mitsubishi Corp. and Mitsui & Co. plan to launch a project to store carbon dioxide in the seabed off Western Australia, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The rival companies are joining forces for the so-called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project, in which CO2 is captured and then stored under the ocean.

This technology has attracted attention as a way to promote decarbonization, and Mitsubishi and Mitsui envisage handling CO2 emissions from Japanese companies in the future, according to sources.

They plan to begin by March procedures to obtain permission from the Australian government to conduct a detailed survey of the ocean floor, the sources said.

The sea area off Western Australia, where the project is planned to take place, has the highest concentration of offshore gas fields in Australia. A large amount of natural gas has been produced in the area, and hopes are high that a large amount of CO2 can be stored in the gaps where the gas used to be.

Mitsubishi and Mitsui have already started extracting natural gas in the area through a joint venture, so they have a certain level of expertise regarding the seabed layers in the area.

Major resources companies BP PLC of Britain and Woodside Petroleum Ltd. of Australia are also expected to participate, and the total investment will reach several hundred billion yen.

Facilities for the CCS project are expected to go into operation around 2030, according to the sources.

Initially, CO2 emitted by local factories will be taken in through a pipeline. At a later time, CO2 emitted by Japanese companies, such as those in the steel, chemicals and shipping industries, will be transported by sea and stored in the seabed.

Compared to Europe and elsewhere, Japan has fewer areas suitable for generating solar power and other forms of renewable energy.

As a certain amount of thermal power generation may continue to be necessary, the CCS technology has been regarded as important to achieve carbon neutrality, or net-zero CO2 emissions.

The technology is also expected to be used to offset CO2 emitted during the production of hydrogen and ammonia, which have drawn attraction as next-generation fuels that will support decarbonization.

However, there are many challenges involved, as a business model for capturing and storing CO2 has not been established yet. Mitsubishi and Mitsui will accelerate their efforts to reduce the cost of capturing and transporting CO2, among other costs.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is working to create international rules to allow companies to trade the CO2 emissions that they reduce with the use of the CCS technology.

Competition intensifying

Amid the global movement toward decarbonization, projects to contain CO2 have been announced one after another around the world.

Last year, U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. announced a $100 billion project in the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico. Large-scale projects are also being considered in Britain, Australia, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

A geological formation that is impermeable to CO2 and contains gaps is required to store CO2 in the seabed, so sites such as depleted gas fields are considered promising.

As suitable sites for CCS projects are limited, competition to secure them has already begun among energy-related companies. If Japan lags behind, its industries may have to pay a large amount of money to have their CO2 stored.

The industry ministry has conducted a series of experiments in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, and had successfully stored 300,000 tons of CO2 by 2019.