UK’s first carbon capture usage & storage project to be commissioned by mid-2020s

The UK’s first carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) project could be commissioned within a decade according to a new government report on the technology, released to coincide with a CCUS summit in Edinburgh today (30 Nov).

A commitment to develop carbon capture and storage technology, which stops greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere, was made ahead of a summit in Edinburgh - image courtesy of BSCSP
A commitment to develop carbon capture and storage technology, which stops greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere, was made ahead of a summit in Edinburgh – image courtesy of BSCSP

The report, which forms part of the government’s ‘Clean Growth’ Strategy, sets out a plan to role out carbon capture usage and storage technology at scale during the 2030s.

It includes investing £20m in supporting construction of CCUS technologies at UK industrial sites, £315m in decarbonising industry and working with bodies like the Crown Estate to identify oil and gas infrastructure which could be transformed for CCUS projects.

Energy Minister Claire Perry, International Energy Agency (IEA) executive director Fatih Birol, and BP chief executive Bob Dudley are speaking at the summit, which is focusing on how the CCUS technologies that can stop carbon from entering the atmosphere, can be activated on a wider scale.

Next year, the government will set out a plan to enable the UK’s first CCUS facility. The report says the facility “can only be achieved through close government and industry partnership” with the hope that it’s primarily financed by the private sector.

It would also be dependent on the value for money case being made. Their further ambition to develop CCUS at scale during the 2030s is subject to costs falling “sufficiently.”

Stuart Haszeldine, professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh broadly welcomes the action plan, though he has some questions about its main points: “It is impossible to say what a “sufficient” reduction [in costs] means,” he says.

“It is clearly possible to get CCS well below £80/MW hr in UK prices for power. But of course, CCS has application across the economy, and the value is that CCS is the least cost route to do that, and that many applications have limited or no alternatives.”

Among the investments mentioned in the report are a £175,000 in Project Acorn in St Fergus, Scotland. The money will go towards finding ways of transporting CO2 emissions from site of capture to storage in one of three depleted gas fields using existing pipelines. The project will be match funded by the Scottish government and receive extra funding from the EU Commission.

CCUS technologies involve capturing CO2 emissions produced from fossil fuels used in electricity generation and industrial processes before it’s released into the atmosphere. It’s then transported either by pipeline or by ship before it’s stored underground, usually in geological rock formations that are often located several kilometres below the earth’s surface.

What is carbon capture usage & storage?

Sustainable Resource Management Sustainability - StockThe technology is credited with capturing up to 90% of CO2 before it’s released into the atmosphere. The IEA estimates that a tenfold increase in CCS capacity is needed by 2025 if world temperature rises are to be limited to 2.0°C by 2050. “The big challenge is cost,” says Sheffield University’s Professor Peter Styring, who is at the Edinburgh Summit today. The capture process is expensive due to its high deployment and energy costs. Earlier this year though, the parliamentary advisory group on CCS, said the technology is “essential for lowest cost decarbonisation.”

Dr Samuel Krevor, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Earth Science & Engineering at Imperial College, London, says the government should roll out CCUS soon to take full advantage of its economic viability: “The single most important step the government can take to have commercial-viable CCS at scale in the 2030s is to support the development of multiple full-scale projects, as soon as possible, but no later than the early 2020s.”

One barrier that has been potentially overcome by the report’s publishing has been the lack of a political framework for implementing CCS technologies. Professor Styring says it’s “encouraging that the report now identifies industrial emissions as important, a move away from just looking at the power sector. By taking this broader and potentially cheaper approach, the prospect for wide scale implementation improves.”

Interest in CCUS technologies has been occurring for some time. A £1bn competition to develop CCS was dropped in 2015 by the UK government. At the time, it was widely condemned by businesses and environmental groups alike. Jonathan Church, a climate and energy lawyer at ClientEarth, called it an “extremely damaging move.”

The Clean Growth Strategy of October 2017 showed a renewed interest by the government in the technology. Now, with the announcement, the government’s commitment to CCUS has come full circle. As the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA) commented: “The government have today stepped up and shown global leadership by committing to this ambitious and deliverable action plan.”


Reporting by Harry Wise