UK takes lead in CCS

The return of CCS to the political agenda could play a big role in decarbonising the UK economy, writes Brad Page at the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute 

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It is exciting to see the growing recognition of carbon capture and storage (CCS) among climate experts, policy makers and industry players in the UK and globally.

Despite a difficult few years and something of a hiatus for CCS deployment in the UK, the mounting evidence and independent analysis that has emerged during this time has left no room for doubt about the importance of CCS in developing a decarbonised economy.

Endorsed at the highest levels

The UK Committee for Climate Change says that without CCS, the road to 2050 targets will be costlier and overall ‘highly challenging’. Other recent reports published by University College London and the European Academies Science Advisory Council have also emphasised the urgent need for the technology to be part of a portfolio of mitigation technologies to reach global climate targets.

Expert organisations, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency, are ardent supporters of this safe, proven technology. A swathe of climate change luminaries has also endorsed the technology, including Grantham Research Institute Chair, Lord Nicholas Stern and the father of the phrase ‘global warming’, Columbia University professor Wallace Smith Broecker.

Back on the agenda Globally, the UK has been among a raft of countries paving the way for CCS deployment; finally the technology appears to have turned a corner, and is back on the political agenda. At the end of 2017, the UK government released its Clean Growth Strategy, setting out the country’s ambition to grow the economy in a sustainable, responsible manner – achieving economic growth but also meeting climate goals. With this highly awaited strategy, the government reaffirmed its commitment to deploying CCS in the UK, subject to cost reductions, and added a ‘U’ to the acronym – widening its interest to CO2 utilisation (CCUS) as well as storage.

With the Climate Change Act of 2008, the country defined legally binding targets to reduce emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. In this race against time, CCUS has a critical role to play alongside energy efficiency measures, renewables and other climate mitigation technologies.

The UK Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth, the Rt Hon Claire Perry, has assumed the driver’s seat. She is strongly committed to pushing forward a cost-effective deployment of CCUS in the UK, and to that end has recently launched a dedicated CCUS Council, on which I have the privilege of sitting. This is augmented by the CCUS Cost Challenge Taskforce, which also plays an important government advisory role.

This wide group of leading UK and European industry and academic representatives are all working collaboratively to collate existing knowledge and experience and address the challenges which CCS faces – particularly in areas of cost, policy, regulation and advocacy.

For the UK government, the technology is not only seen as a climate mitigation tool; CCUS is perceived as a strategic technology with the potential to become an opportunity for UK industries and local communities.

The conduit to a new energy economy

By positioning itself as a CCUS leader, the UK can build a strong and sustainable low-carbon energy economy. CCUS has the potential to decarbonise the country’s energy and heating systems, deliver jobs and offer increased energy security. With CCS, the country also has the ability to develop important transport and storage infrastructure to further the commercial value of the technology.

It is a little-known fact that CCS is the only clean technology able to penetrate many industrial emissions, which alone contribute to 21% of global CO2 emissions.

Around the world, CCS/CCUS is being increasingly seen as the conduit to a new economy of hydrogen, bioenergy and CO2 reuse applications, the latter including by-products such as mattresses, upholstery, bricks and cement.

A watershed year

In the UK, 2018 will be a watershed year for CCUS. With the support of a wide range of stakeholders, the government is defining deployment pathways for CCUS with the objective of deploying the technology at scale in the 2030s.

This is occurring as climate change experts prepare for a global stock-take of CO2 emissions, to be held at COP24 in Poland during November. This inventory will assess how individual countries are tracking against their climate change commitments, and I fully expect that the result will be that we are way off the Paris targets.

This makes it vitally important that countries like the UK establish clear pathways and recommendations that allow CCUS to be deployed in multiple sectors across the country.

There is already an impressive body of evidence to support this, alongside high quality geological resources and natural industry clustering that can drive down cost through shared facilities and even infrastructure reuse in some cases.

A wealth of promising projects There is also work underway to develop promising projects that demonstrate the vital role of CCS in the UK’s low-carbon economy. These projects have the potential to kickstart the deployment of industrial CCS at scale.

On the north-east coast of England, the Tees Valley hosts 60% of the UK’s energy-intensive industries. A group of five leading industrial companies have joined forces to try to deploy CCS and potentially create Europe’s first industrial zone, a ‘hub and cluster’ arrangement, that is equipped with CCS technology. With this project, CCS will bring new investments to the region, as well as maintaining and creating jobs for local communities.

The H21 Leeds City Gate project also demonstrates industry willingness to be part of the solution to reduce emissions. The project has the aim to replace natural gas with hydrogen for heating and cooking in homes in one of the UK’s largest cities – Leeds. The project would rely on CCS to capture CO2 from hydrogen production.

Also promoting the use of hydrogen and CCS is the Liverpool-Manchester Hydrogen Cluster – a conceptual study to develop a practical and economic framework to introduce hydrogen to a core set of major industrial gas users in the Liverpool-Manchester area and feed into the local gas distribution network as a blend with natural gas.

In Scotland, the Acorn Project offers a scalable CCS development that would use existing CO2 capture and pipeline infrastructure to get a CCS system operational at minimum capital cost, creating a cost effective practical stepping stone from which to grow a regional cluster. The Caledonia Clean Energy project in Grangemouth is another perfect example of CCS capability. This proposes construction of a new natural gas-fired power plant that will be integrated with CO2 capture facilities. The project could also link to other clusters in the region, including Teesside. According to a recent study, investments in this development could create 225,000 jobs and boost the UK’s economy by £160bn between now and 2060.

Such projects are critical to building strong business models for CCUS.

The UK moves ahead

With the recent Clean Growth Strategy, the UK has demonstrated that it is committed to taking a lead in CCUS deployment. This is a great opportunity for the UK to showcase its leadership in climate, energy and innovation. By bringing all players together, the UK government has set the agenda. Collaboration, knowledge-sharing and dialogue are essential ingredients in accelerating deployment of this critical technology.

With 17 large-scale facilities already in commercial operation around the world, and a further five poised to come onstream, we look forward to the exciting CCS developments that the UK can unveil over the next few years.

As the world authority on CCS, we are delighted to be advising and participating in these developments and we are confident that CCS will continue to go from strength to strength.

By Brad Page, CEO, Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute

Image Credit | Getty