Ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, Theo Clarke MP for Stafford has written an essay with Policy Connect on how the UK can use Carbon Capture Storage to create green jobs, decarbonise the economy, tackle climate change and help to reach Net Zero by 2050. To read Ms Clarke’s essay please click here.
To Net Zero & Beyond: The Role Of Carbon Capture And Storage
Theo Clarke MP for Stafford and Professor Jon Gluyas
The idea seems so simple. If one of the main causes of climate change is pumping too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, why not just take it back out again? The beguilingly simple logic behind carbon capture technologies has earnt them many ardent supporters.
Forests of mechanical trees removing carbon dioxide like their Amazonian real tree cousins seems fanciful. However, such an approach, known as ‘direct air carbon capture’ coupled with geostorage (DACCS), is just one potential technology for carbon capture technology albeit one which leads to an increase in energy demand. Other technologies are essential for tackling the climate crisis.
Here we discuss the essential role of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in helping the UK meet our net zero target. We also make the case that the UK is well positioned to become the centre of an emerging global CCS industry.
WHAT IS CCS AND WHY DO WE NEED IT?
Whilst not a silver bullet, carbon capture and storage technologies will be essential in sectors that cannot be decarbonised any other way, in the timeframes required in order to achieve the target of net zero by 2050. For example, CCS will be needed in industry and manufacturing to ensure UK businesses remain competitive while simultaneous reducing emissions. The paradigmatic cases here are the production of steel and concrete – making both of these produces huge amounts of unwanted carbon dioxide because the chemical breakdown of limestone (calcium carbonate) is a key process in cement and steel manufacture. Yet if we are to build the infrastructure for a low carbon economy, we are going to need lots of both steel and concrete.
There are four parts to the CCS chain; capture of the carbon dioxide, compression of the carbon dioxide, transportation to the storage site, and finally injection deep underground (> 1km) into a porous and permeable reservoir. All parts of this chain have been shown to work at scale in different parts of the world.
Carbon capture technologies can be integrated into power plants, directly into industrial processes, or into the production of hydrogen. This latter use is especially important. Hydrogen is a possible substitute for natural gas (methane) in many industrial processes, such as concrete production, and can also be used as a fuel in cars, trucks, planes, and ships. Unlike natural gas, the combustion of hydrogen alone produces no greenhouse gases.
The most common method for making hydrogen, involves reacting methane with water at high temperatures, producing hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Unabated, the carbon emissions from this process would defeat the point of switching to hydrogen in the first place. In the absence of CCS, a hydrogen economy is likely to have a larger carbon footprint than the present fossil fuel-based economy. By removing the carbon dioxide from hydrogen production through CCS and you can produce ‘blue hydrogen’ – a low carbon fuel source with endless applications.
Hopefully there will come a time when we can produce ‘green hydrogen’ directly from water at sufficient scale using low carbon electricity but CCS is important as a ‘transition technology’ – allowing sectors to decarbonise sooner via blue hydrogen, than would otherwise be possible. This ‘transition’ feature of CCS extends to its potential use in fossil fuel power plants, helping in the short term to reduce their negative impact on the environment by allowing these plants to contribute to a low-carbon energy mix whilst renewables continue to be scaled up to enable renewables to produce ‘green hydrogen’ in the long term. Yet even as these transition uses are wound down, demand for CCS will not disappear. Processes like cement manufacture will continue to need CCS to decarbonise. Demand for storage capacity as CCS expands globally will continue for many decades, with the UK uniquely positioned to cater to this demand.
Not only could the UK benefit by using CCS to decarbonise our own economy but as the geology of the UK’s offshore areas are ideal for the final stage of the process – injecting the carbon deep undergrown for storage, the UK is ideally placed to provide storage capacity to a growing international CCS industry. This will provide more green jobs for UK workers and enable Britain to increase its role in helping to tackle global climate change.
PROGRESS TO DATE
The need to scale up CCS is recognised across the world. Yet the total quantity of carbon dioxide captured and stored globally each year is only around 40 million tonnes – around 0.1% of the carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has for many years been promoting CCS but uptake has still been slow. There are 19 CCS plants operating world-wide with four more under construction. A further 28 are in the early to mid-stages of development and there are 39 demonstration scale plants. At present the need is to scale up CCS at pace, rather than just focusing on developing new technology.
Closer to home, the UK has been talking about the importance of CCS for the past 15 years. However, we have not yet made it happen. Support for CCS has gone back and forth. This lack of certainty has been a major barrier for wide scale deployment. The UK has had competitions to develop demonstration projects, formed a UK CCS Research Centre and more. But the reality is that hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent without capturing and storing a single molecule of carbon dioxide.
Research in the UK on capture, transport and storage of carbon dioxide, including long term monitoring of the stores, has been extensive and of outstanding quality. Between 2010 and 2015 the Energy Technologies Institute supported research on the total UK offshore storage capacity in depleted oil fields and saline aquifers of the UK continental shelf. The UK was in the vanguard of CCS in 2015 but is now seen by some as being behind Norway, USA, Canada, Australia, China, Abu Dhabi and other nations. We could by now have been selling storage space and exporting expertise and training.
BECOMING A GLOBAL LEADER: HOW THE GOVERNMENT IS SUPPORTING THIS NEW INDUSTRY
We welcome that this (Conservative) Government has finally ended equivocation over support for the CCS industry. Over the last year, the Government has announced significant new funding to ensure that CCS can be ramped up to allow us to meet our world leading decarbonisations targets.
This new funding will help support CCS related projects across the country including Carbon Humber (planned 18.3 M Tonnes per annum carbon dioxide storage and expected to be at capacity operation by 2040), Net Zero Teesside (0.8-6 M tonnes pa, industrial CCUS operational by 2030), and offshore storage projects such as Acorn and Caledonia Clean Energy (storage sites offshore Scotland) and HyNet (NW England with storage in the East Irish Sea depleted gas fields) or indeed any other CCS project.
These projects, and new ones like them, received a major boost in the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution. This plan, designed to build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic, will support up to 250,000 jobs across the country. The plan includes £1 billion of funding to support CCS, £200 million more than had already been committed in the 2020 Spring Budget. This funding will allow for the establishment of four CCS clusters across the country by the end of the 2020s. Support for CCS is also central to the Government’s recent Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy and their National Infrastructure Strategy. This new support, backed by world leading research into CCS technology, will put the UK back at the forefront of creating and delivering innovative solutions to tackling climate change.
This large Government investment into CCS demonstrates the Government’s commitment to levelling up our county as crucially, this new support for CCS will provide good, stable jobs across the whole of the UK: from Wales to Teesside and from Merseyside to Aberdeen. Jobs will be created directly in the sector, as well as across the whole country up and down supply chains. Developing a world class CCS industry will allow us to decarbonise the UK economy whilst redeploying skills and workers from the oil and gas sector. The Government’s commitment to underwriting the birth of this new industry is a key part of its plans to level up the whole of the UK.
AN INDUSTRY OF THE FUTURE
CCS is not a replacement for rapid decarbonisation of the energy sector and widespread electrification of the economy. Addressing climate change will require action on all fronts. But it is clear that in the UK and around the world, there is a desperate need to rapidly scale up CCS capacity. The UK’s research prowess and our stable, well studied geology make us a natural hub for driving this expansion. In decades to come we can be exporting knowledge and expertise, and importing carbon for storage from around the world. With support from Government, there is a great potential for CCS to become an industry of the future that the UK can be proud of, enabling us to create green jobs and reach net zero by 2050.