CCS has ‘no friends’ but must get Britain’s backing

The progress of carbon capture and storage (CCS) has been disappointing but is a crucial technology and still has potential in the UK, according to Carbon Trust chair James Smith.

Smith pointed to a report that CCS could cut the annual costs of meeting British carbon targets by up to 1% of GDP, or around £42bn per year, by 2050.

However, Smith acknowledged that the technology has made disappointing progress over the last ten years.

“Despite high profile initiatives in the UK and elsewhere, not one integrated, large scale electricity plus CCS project has yet been implemented anywhere in the world,” he said.

Smith suggested a number of reasons why CCS seemed to have “no friends”.

“It’s big and capital intensive and it keeps unloved fossil fuels going. It has none of the instinctive attraction of solar panels, wind turbines, wave and tidal power devices,” he said.

In addition, Smith pointed out that generators are not offered revenue support for the additional costs in the way they are for wind farms and other renewables. With a weak carbon market, he argued, the bottom line commercial incentive for electricity generators to build CCS is lacking he argued.

According to Smith CCS is important to the reduction of carbon emissions because, “like it or not, relatively cheap coal and gas will be the major fuels for the next few decades in generating electricity.

“Unless CCS is used to stop the resultant carbon dioxide getting into the atmosphere, man-made climate change cannot be contained.”

“We also need ‘negative carbon’ technology if the worst of climate change is to be avoided. That means actually removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. CCS together with sustainably derived biomass for electricity generation, is by far the best game in town,” he added.

However, the Government has signalled strong support for CCS in the UK.

The UK’s Energy Bill has provisions to support the technology and £125m of R&D is underway as well as a £1bn government competition for a demonstration project.

“Unfortunately the number of candidate projects has been diminishing and the years have been slipping by. The goal of getting some tens of demonstration projects running worldwide by 2020 now looks highly improbable,” said Smith.

According to Smith, the UK is well suited to an expansion of the technology as it is home to two of the world’s top oil companies skilled in the injection and storage of carbon dioxide.

In addition, the UK is home to a highly capable process engineering industry and has a very strong university research base.

Smith believes a strong carbon price would be a step in the right direction, claiming it would stimulate all kinds of low carbon investment, including CCS.

“We all must get real and get behind the technology. Government and industry must work together urgently to build the essential demonstration projects over the next few years,” he said.

Smith’s latest comments build upon previous remarks that CCS can be a suitable solution for reducing carbon emissions but high costs and a challenging implementation process are making it unattractive to those in the energy industry.

Conor McGlone

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