Carbon Capture and Storage UK: Plants, Projects & Politics

Carbon Capture and Storage UK: Plants, Projects & Politics

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the process of isolating and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) from heavy industry or power generation.1 It can prevent as much as 90 per cent of their CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere.2 This technology could help the UK meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.3 The government has therefore included CCS as a key policy in its Clean Growth Strategy.4

However, there are currently no CCS facilities operating in either the UK or the EU.5 Environmentalists have criticised the technology for its “history of over-promising and under-delivering”.6

CCS competitions in the UK

The UK government has expressed interest in CCS as a solution to climate change for years. In 2012, it announced a £1 billion contract for CCS technology.7 Two projects had been competing to build plants demonstrating CCS at commercial scale.8 Shell and SSE backed Peterhead power station.9 The other bidder, the White Rose consortium at Drax – the UK’s largest power plant – was floundering after Drax halted its investment in September 2015.10

But, the competition was axed in November 2015, due to concerns that it was trying to deliver CCS technology before it was cost-efficient to do so.11 The UK government had already invested £100 million into the competition.12 A similar competition to kick-start CCS was cancelled in 2011 for similar reasons after the government had spent £68 million.13 Nevertheless, the UK continues to look to CCS as a potential climate change solution.

UK carbon capture and storage projects

The UK’s ambition under the Clean Growth Strategy is to deploy CCS at scale during the 2030s.14 This commitment is part of the plan to meet targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement and the 2050 net zero promise. It is, however, subject to sufficient cost reduction of the technology.15 CCS is so expensive that facilities require investment from both the public and private sectors.16 To help develop four different CCS schemes in Britain by 2030, £1 billion of public funding has been committed.17

One of these projects is Net Zero Teesside. This project involves a consortium of oil and gas companies – Eni, Equinor, Shell and Total – led by BP.18 They aim to decarbonise a group of carbon-intensive businesses in northeast England by 2030.19 Using pipes to transport the carbon, up to six million tonnes of CO2 emissions could be injected into spent oil reserves each year.20 This is equivalent to the annual energy use of up to two million homes.21

Net Zero Teesside will achieve this by using CCS technology to capture, compress and store CO2.22 By providing transportation and storage infrastructure, the scheme hopes to encourage new investment in the region from other industries that want to store or use CO2.23 A combined cycle gas turbine facility with CCS modifications will also provide low carbon power to complement renewable energy sources.24 It could create up to 5,500 new jobs.25 The deprived Teesside region would also benefit from an annual gross income of up to £450 million.26

What are the downsides of carbon capture and storage?

Critics of carbon capture and storage in the UK point to the limited facilities currently functioning, despite decades of research and funding. Today, there are just 19 large-scale industrial and two large-scale CCS power facilities in operation worldwide.27 CCS still faces many barriers, including cost and feasibility.28 The UN’s sustainable development strategy provides a CCS target for the global energy sector of 310 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030.29 To meet this, an enormous scale-up of about 2,000 CCS facilities is required.30 

Moreover, even if CCS facilities, such as Teesside Net Zero, overcome the barriers to operation, they would begin reducing emissions too late to avoid a catastrophic 1.5°C rise in global temperature.31 There is, therefore, a strong argument for investing in clean renewable energy sources which now account for 40.2 per cent of the UK’s energy generation.32 This shows a significant increase; 10 years ago, they accounted for just 8.2 per cent.33 It further demonstrates their practicality as a climate change solution. 

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Sources

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