Engineers fear UK is at risk of falling behind in the CCS race

The UK is at risk of falling behind in the race to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, engineers warned today.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), which is holding a two-day conference on CCS, released a statement blaming government hesitation and indecisiveness for endangering the UK’s bid to become a leader in the development and operation of CCS technology.

CCS is seen as crucial to decarbonising electricity production in order to avert climate change and an area where Britain can build a successful new sector exporting equipment and engineering expertise.

But the government has been criticised for the lack of a long-term energy policy to give investors confidence and had to restart its £1bn competition to stimulate development of the technology after all the participants pulled out.

Senior ministers are due to meet today to formulate a policy for dealing with the UK’s future energy demands and, according to a report in today’s Guardian, cutting funding for CCS demonstration projects is on the table in negotiations to secure money for renewable energy subsidies.

The IMechE’s head of energy and environment, Dr Tim Fox, said in a statement: ‘The UK is at risk of going from a world leader to an also-ran in the race towards CCS technology. Projects in Canada, Norway and China are now moving those countries ahead of the UK, while we are swiftly losing momentum.

‘The UK cannot meet its emission-reduction targets without CCS. This leaves the government with a choice. It can either let industry create a basic capability by itself, buying in expertise from abroad, or it can grasp the nettle, give CCS the public support it needs and help the UK become a world leader.

‘The government has been sitting on a £1bn fund, enough to kick-start development of CCS. Ministers are meeting today for yet more discussions on Britain’s energy future. It is time for them to stop delaying and get that funding urgently to the projects that show the most promise.’

The CCS competition was relaunched in April to open entry to a wider range of projects, including gas power stations and industrial plants. It closed for bids in July and competing operations will be required to be operational by 2020.

The Carbon Capture and Storage Association estimates that CCS could create 100,000 jobs across the UK by 2030, contributing £6.5bn to the UK’s economy.

The IMechE pointed out that if the UK is one of the first countries to develop CCS, the industry could be as big as the North Sea oil industry, taking a significant share of a £5tn global CCS business by 2050.