UK urged to accelerate CCS plans; and concerns raised about burning biomass

Article by Amanda Doyle

A CARBON capture trade association and a cross-party committee of MPs have called on the UK Government to accelerate the roll out of carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure, as well as provide clarity on its strategy in order to incentivise investment.

The Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA) has released its CCUS Delivery Plan 2035 in response to the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy published last October. The strategy confirmed that the Government would back two “track 1” CCUS clusters – HyNet and the East Coast Cluster – and keep the Scottish Cluster as a reserve. Track 1 clusters are due to be operational by the mid-2020s, with two further clusters comprising track 2 due to be operational by 2030. The Government also aims to capture and store 20–30m t/y of CO2 by 2030 across the economy, rising to at least 50m t/y by 2035.

The CCSA delivery plan outlines three potential scenarios for the future of UK CCUS: constrained by current policy, enabling industry pipeline, and global leadership. In the first scenario, industry is constrained by keeping to the Government’s targets and limiting itself to the track 1 and 2 clusters. It assumes that new contracts won’t be awarded until later this decade, at which point some of the project pipeline will have fallen away. This scenario is the most costly and would inhibit the development of a strong supply chain due to the stop-start nature.

The second scenario on enabling industry would help the UK to reach its 2035 ambition earlier and at a reduced cost due to avoided emissions from 2025. This would deploy the full pipeline of projects currently under development in the UK and provide certainty for development of the domestic supply chain. The CCSA found that the 2035 target of 50m t/y can be exceeded by the industry’s carbon capture pipeline, rising to 70m t/y.

In the global leadership scenario, the UK could take a leading role in global CCUS deployment. Excess storage could be utilised by importing additional volumes of CO2 from neighbouring countries.

The CCSA makes a number of recommendations for the Government to take within the next year to ensure the successful deployment of CCUS. Writing in the foreword of the plan, Ruth Herbert, CEO of the CCSA, said: “Given the long lead in times for this infrastructure, the message from the industry is that ‘2035’ is essentially ‘now’ in terms of the urgent need to plan the roll-out of CCUS across all regions in the UK.”

Emissions captured to 2035 by CCSA scenario

Urgent action needed

The CCSA warned that many carbon capture projects could fail due to the waiting times for securing potential contracts from the Government. It said it is crucial for the Government to provide clarity on the scale and frequency of future contracts, as CCUS business models need public funding support to build confidence and reduce investment risks. It highlighted that the clusters that weren’t selected for track 1 have no certainty on potential deployment timelines, and urged that the Government launch the track 2 selection process by the middle of this year.

It also highlighted the importance of a viable domestic supply chain, as without one industry could incur higher costs for imported goods and labour, and it could lead to potential delays or cancellations of projects if the supply chain is not aligned with the deployment timeline. It calls on the Government and industry to work together to identify areas in the supply chains that need development.

The Government needs to accelerate the permit process for the construction of new infrastructure for transport. This includes mature pipeline infrastructure as well as shipping, road, and rail transport to enable the global leadership scenario. The Government and stakeholders also need to coordinate on a licensing round for new storage this year to provide clarity on the future market framework. It noted that storage development plans have seven-to-ten-year lead times.

The current skills shortage also needs to be addressed, with increased training and investment needed to avoid the occurrence of a bottleneck in skilled labour.

Herbert said: “Our recommended build-out rate would provide a route to decarbonisation for all of our industrial regions and mean that we could rely on our own industries such as clean steel, clean cement and clean hydrogen for the net zero transition. To continue investing in this pipeline, the sector is asking Government to commit to regular contract allocation rounds, with an overarching target and budget, similar to that provided for offshore wind in 2013. This kind of commitment would send a clear signal to the broader supply chain and the finance community, driving inward investment. Building this new world-leading net zero industry here in the UK will safeguard existing jobs and create new growth opportunities for our industrial regions, increasing our self-reliance.”

Targets for greenhouse gas reductions and removals need to be separate

Separately, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has written to the Government over concerns it has on the strategy regarding negative emissions technologies (NETs), namely bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) and direct air CCS (DACCS).

The EAC echoes the CCSA in calling for more economic support for the rollout of NETS, but also asked the Government to outline how the effectiveness of NETs will be monitored and to indicate what alternatives will be used if NETs don’t deliver the expected outcomes.

It said that there needs to be separate targets for emissions reductions at the source and carbon removals, and warns that actual emissions reductions could be compromised by focusing on engineered reductions through NETs.

A significant area of concern is the sustainability of biomass feedstocks, specifically regarding imports for the Drax BECCS facility. It said that a full lifecycle analysis of the feedstock – such as including transport emissions and loss of carbon stocks – is currently not being calculated, which raises questions over BECCS being carbon neutral.  It added that there are also general concerns over land use change and impact on biodiversity.  

Philip Dunne MP, Chair of the EAC, said: “Through our work, it is clear that Government thinking on negative emissions technologies needs to be developed. These technologies will play an important role in meeting net zero, because to maintain viability of our steel and cement sectors they need to find ways to restrict the volume of greenhouse gases they emit.

“Presently there is little in terms of incentive, and very little in terms of any Government direction or clarity. The fact that removal and reduction targets are combined enables many sectors averse or unable to cut emissions to dodge their responsibilities. Transparency and accountability must be improved by separating these targets out and highlighting the work that needs to be done.”

“The sector is raring to go as soon as the Government offers direction and clarity, but with so many unknowns we can understand why deployment of NETs in the UK is yet to gain traction.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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