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The Guardian: Oil refinery gives greenhouses a boost with CO2 pipeline

James Randerson, science correspondent
Saturday August 12, 2006

A project to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from oil refineries by using the gas as “fertiliser” in commercial greenhouses has been so successful it is being extended.

The project, which adds new meaning to the term “greenhouse gas”, is the first in the world. It distributes CO2 from Shell’s Pernis refinery outside Rotterdam to 400 greenhouses, saving a large amount of natural gas each year, which is equivalent to 170,000 tonnes of CO2.

The companies behind the venture, Hoek Loos and Voker Wessels are now expanding the operation to supply a further 100 greenhouses. Before the project was launched last year the greenhouses, which grow vegetables and flowers, used to generate CO2 by burning natural gas. By tripling the concentration of the gas inside the greenhouse they allow the plants to photosynthesise more quickly. This boosts productivity by up to 25% and cuts growing time, but the CO2 ended up in the atmosphere.

“We came to the conclusion that they used a lot of natural gas to provide CO2. Of course, that’s not a very good situation for the environment,” said Jacob Limbeek, who with the late Hans Tiemeijer came up with the idea for the scheme called Organic CO2 for Assimilation of Plants.

According to the journal Nature the €100m (£65m) scheme supplies greenhouses with CO2 at between €40 and €70 a tonne – just over half the price of generating the CO2. Once the 100 greenhouses are plumbed in by the end of the year, the distribution network will be delivering up to 130 tonnes an hour.

“Of course, there is a reduction in the use of natural gas at the greenhouse,” Mr Limbeek said. “But under European emissions trading rules it is Shell who benefits because CO2 that would have been emitted by them now goes somewhere else.”

Shell will share some of the profit from selling carbon credits with the greenhouses after 2008, but Mr Limbeek was not prepared to reveal details of the deal. and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

1 Comment on “The Guardian: Oil refinery gives greenhouses a boost with CO2 pipeline”

  1. #1 huub van haelen
    on Aug 12th, 2006 at 14:37

    Please note, this information is incorrect!

    The first studies were conducted by Lillian McDonald, Paul Sanders and myself in 1992. Supply of co-generation unit exhaust gasses from the natural gas production location Gaag (near Hook of Holland) to the greenhouses opposite the road. Study was conducted for NAM, a Shell subsidiary in The Netherlands. The idea was mine, I commissioned Lililian McDonald to do the calcs and Paul Sanders to run the economics.

    During the study we became aware of the fact that there was already an extensive grid in The Netherlands for distributing CO2 from powerplants to the greenhouses and EZH, now E-On, was working on expanding their grid. We saw possibilities to tie-in to their planned infrastructure.

    We also worked together with the Dutch Agricultural Institute as they were optimising the distribution and quality of CO2 from the exhaust gasses from locally operated co-generation units, owned by individual greenhouse owners. At the time greenhouse owners were spiking the exhaust gasses from their co-generation units in their own greenhouses, supply was controlled on the basis of measured CO2 levels in the greenhouse, excess exhaust gasses were released in the air. The idea the Agricultural Institute had was to build a grid to balance supply and demand between the individual greenhouses and co-generation units.

    At the time our project, Gaag, was decided unecomomical (it was in fact killed by the engineering department by calculating the costs of the project on the basis of the wrong material selection for the piping, which made the installation too expensive) the company inhouse magazine picked-up our story and published it. The article in the magazine drew the attention of some people at the Pernis plant and only in 1998 they could make (force) it economical feasible. Meanwhile Moerdijk Chemicals had simply executed the idea and is supplying CO2 to local greenhouses since 1997 .

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