Norway's Equinor and its partners in the Northern Lights underground carbon dioxide (CO2) storage project offshore Norway have signed preliminary agreements with seven potential industrial customers for the venture.
The agreements are a crucial step towards securing investment form the Norwegian government for the project, which is led by Equinor in partnership with Shell and France's Total.
Those who signed the memorandums of understanding (MoUs) on Thursday include the world's leading metal producer ArcelorMittal, one of the largest cement producers Heidelberg Cement, Sweden's largest, privately-owned refiner Preem and Finland's energy firm Fortum.
"Nothern Lights... could become the world's first cross-border CO2 storage," Equinor's Chief Executive Eldar Saetre told a news conference.
The Norwegian government said the industry's commitment would be crucial for it to decide on whether to invest in the project, which aims at capturing and storing up to 5 million tonnes of CO2 from various industrial sites onshore.
"The signing of the MoUs are the right step in that direction," Norway's Oil and Energy Minister Kjell-Boerge Freiberg said. "You've shown that a larger CCS network in Europe is possible."
Northern Lights is a part of what Norway says is a full- scale carbon capture and storage project, which involves storage, transportation and onshore capture facilities.
Preliminary estimates from 2016 showed it could cost between 7.2 billion Norwegian crowns ($801.7 million) to 12.6 billion crowns to establish a full CCS chain, including CO2 transportation by ships from two onshore sites in Norway, and the subsea storage.
So far, Norway has spent 825 million Norwegian crowns to develop the full-scale CCS project, which also involves building carbon capture facilities at onshore industrial sites in Norway.
If approved, the Northern Lights storage is expected to start operations in 2023 or 2024, Gassnova, a governmental agency in charge of CCS development, said.
($1 = 8.9810 Norwegian crowns)
(Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)