Where next for CCS?

The Engineer

Earlier this week, delegates at a conference on the future of UK carbon capture and storage were greeted to news that plans to develop a CCS project at Longannet in Scotland had been shelved.

The government funding, worth up to £1bn, has been pulled because Chris Huhne, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, deemed that the of the cost of the 260km of pipeline, which would have carried CO2 from the coal-fired power plant to a sub surface storage facility, was too high. 

If the UK is to achieve its carbon emission targets of an 80% reduction by 2050 then the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere from fossil fuel power stations must be cut significantly. 

CCS has the potential to reduce the amount of carbon emitted from gas and coal power stations by 80-90% and is therefore an obvious piece of technology to develop.

The technology involves capturing CO2 at source, compressing it, and then storing it underground in porous rocks, usually in the ocean.

The UK is considered to be one of the world leaders in CCS, despite the fact it has yet to implement an actual CCS project like those seen in the USA and Canada.

The UK seabed carbon storage facility is estimated to equate to 100 years of the current power sector output and a particularly large storage reserve exists in the North Sea, off the east coast of Scotland.

Speakers on the panel remained optimistic that several of the UK’s CCS contingency demonstrator projects, of which there are 6/7, will still go ahead. Peterhead in Scotland, an SSE project, and Don Valley in Yorkshire, a 2Co project, are two examples that are looking particularly promising at the moment.

Lewis Gillies, chief executive officer of 2Co, outlined the main inhibiting risk factors that have prevented CCS developments getting the backing they need in the past.

He said all the different components that are needed to make a CCS project work, from the power plant to the offshore facility, need to work in harmony with one another. At present, Gillies believes sectors, such as oil and power, are ’speaking different languages’ and the risk of failure at one point in the chain has prevented investment in CCS projects.

He went on to explain that financers also need to be certain that projects will come in on schedule and under budget before they open up the coffers. In addition, they understandably want to know that CCS projects will be reliable, and operate, as they should.

The initial demonstrator projects will be expensive but they are of the utmost importance if the UK is genuinely serious about cutting carbon emissions.The government need to take a punt on this one to ensure sufficient funding is there to enable CCS projects to happen, even if it means taking on larger amounts of debt than they would like. Doing nothing would significantly reduce the UK’s chances of meeting its carbon reduction targets.

As soon as one or two projects are functioning effectively, the costs will come down and the rate of investment should increase as businesses seek to commercialise the technology.