Is UK CCS dead? Or can it be resuscitated?

Article by Staff Writer

A PANEL of experts in carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems met at Imperial College London on 28 January to discuss where CCS stands in the UK after a £1bn (US$1.4bn) competition fund was cancelled by the UK government in its Autumn Spending Review.

The panel comprised Geoffrey Maitland, former IChemE president and professor of energy engineering at Imperial; Graeme Sweeney, chairman of the Zero Emissions Platform coalition; Mike Thompson, head of carbon budgets for the Committee on Climate Change (CCC); Jim Ward, director of business development at the Energy Technologies Institute; and was chaired by Sir Ed Davey, former secretary of state for Energy and Climate Change.

Maitland began by saying he does not believe UK CCS is dead, that it has merely suffered a “knockdown blow”, which will result in the UK being “left behind” as Canada, China, Norway and the US continue to invest in CCS technology.

He claimed that 3,000 large-scale projects will be needed worldwide to curb CO2 emissions, with at least 20 in the UK by 2050. Maitland believes the UK economy will depend on fossil fuels that will require CCS to lower emissions before 2050, as further renewable alternatives such as wind and tidal and further nuclear plants cannot be built in time to meet the UK energy quota.

Maitland believes cancelling the £1bn competition was “a missed opportunity” and not cost-effective in the long term, as using fossil fuels with CCS is the cheapest alternative for providing base load electricity without investing large amounts of GDP to accelerate renewable electricity.

Maitland said the solution would be for the UK or the EU to impose carbon pricing, either by a tax, or to make the EU trading system more effective in order to incentivise nations continuing to use fossil fuels to deploy CCS to lower emissions.

He added, “We need a much clearer strategy of how fossil fuels fit into the energy picture. Two things we can put into the strategy are; mandatory CCS on all power plants by 2022, to retrofit coal so we only have abated coal, and any new gas plants are fitted with CCS, because just having a policy on gas without CCS, I think won’t meet the targets either. Delaying the use of CCS by a few years will increase the cost of doing it.”

Sweeney’s views on why the UK CCS projects have not been successful is that too much focus has been placed on projects where the capture, storage, and transport of CO2 has been budgeted as a single problem , in order to reach full deployment quicker. Whereas in Norway, CO2 capture is considered to be a separate project to transportation and storage.

He said, “Maybe part of why we haven’t been successful is there has been focus on those end-to-end projects, and they have been loaded up with infrastructure costs, in order to deliver the next phase, and that makes them look apparently expensive.”

Sweeney believes CCS is the only cost-effective solution to the UK meeting the 2oC warming target by 2050, agreed at COP21 last year. He said no other solutions can be implemented in time to sufficiently reduce the current levels of CO2 currently being released.

Mike Thompson believes the UK government must be persuaded to renew its interest in CCS. He said CCS will be vital to its current decarbonisation strategy, and a new approach will be needed to deploy the technology.

Thompson said that splitting the cost of the problem between companies that capture, and those that can evacuate and store CO¬2 should be the new strategy. The programme for transportation and storage must be government led, as infrastructure changes of that magnitude will not happen naturally within industry.

He said, “There should be a single body to deal with the transport and storage risk. And create the opportunity for those running industrial facilities in capturing CO2, to pay a fee to have it taken away without having to manage the rest of the process.”

According to Thompson, a working model defining the scale of the problem, government investments to help build and run the required infrastructure, and a plan for future privatisation could be implemented by 2050, if the new strategy idea can passed for a revised edition of the fifth carbon budget, which is set to begin in 2028.

Ward warned that delaying CCS for up two years could increase the overall cost by £1–2bn. He said saving £1bn this year is likely to increase the overall cost in CCS if it is revived, which he believes is likely to happen before 2020 due to the lack of other reduction strategies.

Ward said one of the main roadblocks for CCS to overcome is governments, and other funding sources are failing to invest because they believe CCS requires more R&D to become a widely-used technology. Ward believes that CCS technology is viable in its current state, and said any recommendations for more R&D on the technology would be a “distraction”.

He said that the competition model used by the UK government was not the best strategy. He would have liked to have seen a collaborative model. “The parties that still want to be in CCS are not allowed to work together. The forcing of competition didn’t achieve the goal. The people who won were the people that didn’t participate.”

Taking questions from the audience, the panel was asked how CCS would be affected by potentially voting to leave the EU. Davey believes the UK must remain in the EU if CCS is to be revived, otherwise it would be unable to access CCS projects developing in other member countries as easily.

Davey also believes that EU initiatives to fund CCS demonstrators in Poland will help strengthen the case for CCS across the EU. He said political motivations in Poland are centred on mining operations. Demonstrating how CCS can reduce mining emissions can keep 90,000 miners in work longer, and would persuade other member states to follow suit.

When asked why the government pulled the funding four weeks before the preliminary evidence was available from the first stage of the competition, Maitland said, “It was an economic and opportunistic decision that would not have been affected by any evidence.”

Article by Staff Writer

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