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Can CCUS deliver a ‘just transition’ for UK industrial heartlands in 2023?


2 min read

Head and shoulders photo of Ruth Herbert, CEO, Carbon Capture and Storage Association Photo: CCSA
Ruth Herbert, CEO, Carbon Capture and Storage Association

Photo: CCSA

This year, 2023, represents a considerable opportunity for the UK to demonstrate its commitment to decarbonisation and a ‘just transition’ through the creation of net zero industrial clusters across the UK. So writes Ruth Herbert, CEO of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA) and a speaker at this year’s Energy Institute (EI) International Energy Week in February.*

Looking back at 2022 and reflecting on developments in the UK since it hosted COP26 and the progress made at COP27, it is striking that despite the positive steps made over the last 12 months, we are still waiting for the green light from government to push ahead and activate Britain’s green industrial revolution.


COP26 enabled the UK to lead the global net zero conversation, showcasing to the world its commitment to tackling climate change and decarbonising the economy. The then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said: ‘The people who will judge us are children not yet born and their children […] we must not fluff our lines or miss our cue because if we fail, they will not forgive us.’ These words were powerful and gave those of us on the front line of the fight to decarbonise hope that change was coming, and that government and business working together could pick up the pace to deliver our collective net zero vision.


The UK’s CCUS opportunity 
Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is one of the few tools available to decarbonise heavy industry and a vital element in any strategy to achieve a net zero economy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent Sixth Assessment Report emphasises the importance of CCUS and carbon dioxide removal (CDR) to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C; limiting potential stranded assets and ensuring any residual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be eliminated.


CCUS is typically referred to as a low-carbon solution for power and hydrogen production. However, CCUS also enables emissions reductions across a wide variety of other sectors that form the backbone of society, including heavy industries such as cement, glass and steel. And crucially, CCUS also unlocks a key route to greenhouse gas (GHG) removal through direct air capture with storage (DACS) or bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).  


The UK has been regarded as a trailblazer with its 2021 net zero strategy, which is under review and will need to focus further on implementation in its next iteration. The UK has also been a driving force in the global net zero journey. However, turmoil at the heart of government during 2022 resulted in delays to the necessary roll-out of CCUS as well as other vital technologies needed to tackle climate change.


The decarbonisation of UK industry is an opportunity for the country to position itself as a world leader in the emerging low-carbon products markets. It is therefore vital that the government continues to press ahead with the necessary legislation, business models and awarding of contracts to the first CCUS clusters to take full advantage of this new export opportunity and, in doing so, secure much-needed inward investment into the UK’s industrial regions.


Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is one of the few tools available to decarbonise heavy industry and a vital element in any strategy to achieve a net zero economy.


The ‘just transition’
A ‘just transition’ to net zero delivers a climate-resilient economy, ensuring growth and prosperity while tackling inequality and injustice. This will be especially crucial in the UK’s industrial heartlands, which are home to some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. CCUS offers a vital route to cost-effective decarbonisation for the very industries that these communities rely on. Industries that are crucial to job retention, job creation and economic growth across the UK.


I recently visited Hanson cement works in Padeswood, North Wales, part of the HyNet industrial cluster. Its proposed carbon capture facility will create 56 new, high value jobs at the site, plus an additional 350 during construction. Once fully operational, the plant will capture 800,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, saving it from becoming a relic of a post net zero world. Beyond Wales and the north-west of England, plans for CCUS are progressing in many other regions, including Scotland, Teesside, Humber, and the south-east and south-west of England.


Across Europe, Norway’s Northern Lights facility and industrial clusters in the Port of Rotterdam and Port of Antwerp are arguably the most advanced, but Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and others are moving forward quickly.  


Delivering net zero industrial clusters across the UK and Europe is exactly the sort of action which can support the just transition. Long gone are the days when decarbonisation spelled danger for industrial jobs – rather the opportunity to lead the green industrial revolution will be a source of pride for manufacturing generations to come. For Heidelberg Cement, the owners of the Hanson site, it is increasingly clear that the green, clean future of cement with carbon capture technology is something it will pursue across its European portfolio. The only question is, will the Hanson works be a frontrunner or a laggard?


Next steps
What is needed to secure investment into the UK’s net zero industrial future, and ensure that no region is left behind, is an accelerated deployment programme from the government, with a multi-year funding envelope that recognises that each region will move forward initially at a different pace and scale. This nationwide roll-out of CCUS must also be prioritised by public services which will need to be adequately resourced to swiftly process the necessary planning and consents.  


Industry is already stepping up its efforts to engage with local supply chains to maximise the opportunities for job retention and creation from the first clusters. I was recently in Aberdeen and Teesside, meeting local suppliers who are keen to get involved. They also want to see a committed forward programme and the CCSA has been advocating for increased collaboration across clusters and between government and industry to support suppliers to benefit from what will be a significant construction programme.


Next month I will be speaking at International Energy Week, a global conference ‘focused on transitioning out of the geopolitical and environmental crises facing energy’. I am excited to be playing my part in the growing wave of collaboration from across industry to reach net zero and supercharge the UK economy. There’s a lot to do, but 2023 can be the year of CCUS!


The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.


*The Energy Institute’s International Energy Week 2023 hybrid conference will be held at the Intercontinental London Park Lane hotel and broadcast online, on 28 February to 2 March 2023.