No technical barriers for large-scale, low-cost UK CCS deployment, report finds

The UK has "more than enough" potential Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) sites to meet legally binding 2050 carbon targets in a cost-effective manner, which could save up to £2bn annually throughout the 2020s.

That is the key finding of a new report released today (15 June), from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), which found that delaying the implementation of CCS at scale would add between £1bn to £2bn annually to the otherwise lowest cost options for an energy system capable of reducing carbon emissions in line with the 2050 targets.

ETI’s CCS strategy manager Dennis Gammer said: “Any attractive CCS projects to developers and the government will need to realise economies of scale at, or relatively shortly after start-up, and because of this are most likely to be large gas power stations delivering strategic infrastructure to enable the later tie-in of industrial emissions.

“For some potential matches of emitter and store options to start small and build quickly may reduce the size of any initial commitment at risk and this offers an additional approach to building a CCS network.”

ETI has examined the appraisal work of the Peterhead and White Rose CCS projects, the two sites that were competing for the Government’s £1bn storage fund before it was scrapped in2015.

Analysis from the appraisals found that there are “no technical barriers” to the storage of CO2 in offshore stores and that deployment wouldn’t limit the CCS industry from developing at scale in the UK.

The Committee on Climate Change recommends that 4-7GW of CCS and 3-5MT of captured CO2 from industrial plants would be required by 2035 to put the UK on track to comply with the Climate Change Act, which sets a legally-bind target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.

Appraisals have already been completed for several offshore CCS options in the Southern and Central North Sea, with a capacity of more than 850MTs, and the East Irish Seas. According to the report, completion of these sites alone would deliver a “sizeable, diverse and low-cost” storage offering.

The East coast of England was identified as a prime location for CCS deployment, based on its large emissions base and access to the offshore sites. However, the report notes that large-scale stores capable of storing more than 3MT/a would be essential to lower the cost for CSS projects; although some sites could follow a “start small and build” investment map to de-risk projects.

Larger projects would offer the cheapest levelized costs for storage. ETI analysis suggests that projects can offer the equivalent of £5/MWh from a gas power station.

The lowest costs would be achieved by combining the large-scale projects with shared infrastructure and low-risk technology. Once provided, most likely from large gas-fired stations, CCS rollout could be accelerated at an “attractive cost”, according to the report.

In fact, CCS would be particularly attractive for power generation sites, with the captured emissions capable of delivering “negative emissions” through utilising new low-carbon energy supplies such as hydrogen and the gasification of feedstocks when combined with bioenergy.

Political problems

The claims from the report clash with the Government’s handling of CCS projects in the UK. The National Audit Office (NAO) found that national policy frameworks for CCS incurred costs of £100m and failed to achieve value for money.

The House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee went as far as to criticise Whitehall for failing to support the construction of large-scale CCS projects. The claims from the committee support those from the NAO, which noted that the “untried nature” of CCS technology left associated project lifetime costs uncertain and benefits hidden.

That’s not to say that the Government has given up on the concept. More than 250 UK-based academics will benefit from a £6m fund aimed at strengthening research into maximising the contribution of CCS to the desired UK low-carbon energy system.

The fund arrived after an Indian chemicals company, using patented carbon-stripping technology from a previously UK Government-backed innovator Carbonclean, succeeded in introducing a subsidy-free carbon capture and utilisation project to the market.

Matt Mace

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