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Energy Insight: Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS) in the UK

Q.  The UK government has abandoned CCS projects in the past. Will the UK ever succeed in getting CCS in any form in the future?

The UK Government is committed, by a law it passed itself over 20 years ago (the Climate Change Act 2008) to ensure that "the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline.” This is an ambitious target, and one way to help achieve it is considered to be carbon capture and storage (CCS) or carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS).

What is CCUS?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a by-product of power plants burning fossil fuels to produce energy; of refineries producing petroleum products from crude oil; and of many other industrial processes.

CCUS is a "set of technologies which can together capture carbon dioxide from waste gases, and either ‘lock up’ this carbon dioxide in long-term storage or use it in industrial processes."

The Carbon Capture and Sotrage Association (CCSA) has a clear description of the CCS process on their website.

Why is it needed?

The Global CCS Institute (GCCSI) states that "Internationally recognised evidence by specialist climate change bodies concur that international climate change targets cannot be achieved without CCS.”  

The GCCSI’s CEO, Brad Page, writes in their October 2018 report: The Carbon Capture and Storage Readiness Index 2018: Is the world ready for carbon capture and storage?: "In this past year, and for the first time in quite a long time, we have seen decisive action from a number of governments to include CCS in their armoury."

Is CCUS being done anywhere already?

The GCCSI has a database showing "23 large-scale CCS facilities in operation or under construction globally." 

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) also gives information about large scale CCUS projects operating in various parts of the world - the majority in the USA. But most of these projects are for either just storing (sometimes termed sequestrating) the CO2; or for using it, as CO2, for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). 

Both sources of information have maps showing where the projects are located.

The largest project is the Century Plant in Texas, which has been operating since 2010 and which uses the CO2 captured for EOR in Kinder Morgan's Permian Basin delivery system.

Norway has two CCS projects in operation, which separate CO2 from the gas produced from their Sleipner and Snohvit fields and reinjects it into saline formations for storage.

There are also projects in China, the Middle East and Brazil, and others under construction in the USA, China and Australia.

Can the captured CO2 be used in other ways?

Examples of how CO2 resulting from carbon capture can be used, can be seen in the activities of the member companies of the Carbon Utilization Alliance which are inventing and/ or using technology to:

  • grow algae for use in biofuel (eg being deveoped by Aljadix AG in Switzerland)
  • make carbonate rock for use in place of natural limestone rock (eg by Blue Planet and used at Sanfransisco Airport)
  • produce solid building components such as stronger concrete (eg Solidia Technologies® , with HQ in New Jersey USA)
  • create high quality graphite (eg being developed by Carbon Upcycling Technologies  in Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
  • make nanofibers and nanotubes (eg invented by C2CNT in Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
  • make components for a plastic material (eg  by Newlight Technologies, California, USA)
  • recycle CO2 into chemicals and fuel (eg American Green Gasoline LLC in Iowa, USA - uses CO2 in their processes to produce Syngas)
  • Filter hydrogen sulphide out of natural gas (eg SulfaCHAR™ invented by CharTechnologies Toronto, Ontario)

One of their members is offering  - "The $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE [which] is a global competition to develop breakthrough technologies that will convert CO2 emissions from power plants and industrial facilities into valuable products like building materials, alternative fuels and other items that we use every day."

What has happened with CCS and CCUS in the UK in the past?

The UK government has been conducting enquiries and competitions, for many years, to find a CCS technology which works and is cost efficient.

1st competition

The first competition into CCS was launched by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in 2007 following an anouncement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his budget of 21 March 2007: that ...[the Government] will launch a competition to develop the UK’s first full-scale carbon capture and storage demonstration, the result to be announced next year.  But the competition was cancelled in 2011 – having had £68 million spent on it because DECC could not agree with the one remaining bidder that it "would represent value for money"

DECC had also put forward several CCS projects for EU funding in May 2011 but all the projects came to nothing. The last remaining project was at Longannet, then the 3rd largest coal-fired power station in Europe, and it collapsed  because Scottish Power, and its partners Shell and National Grid were unsure of adequate public funding. The government had pledged £1bn, but the developers felt they needed £1.5bn.

2nd competition 2012

In April 2012 a new competition for CCS was launched by DECC promising £125m in funding for R&D including £13m for a UK CCS Research Centre.

In January 2013, the government issued guidance on how it supported CCUS including the setting up of a CCSU Cost Challenge Taskforce.

In November 2014 the White Rose Carbon Capture and Storage Project was initiated.

But the competition was again unsuccessful. HM Treasury had not agreed, with BEIS, the amount of Financial support which would be available over the lifetime of the projects – leading to £1 billion of funding being withdrawn. The Secretary of State for Energy refused development consent for the White Rose CCS project because "the Applicant would currently have insufficient funds to allow it to develop the White Rose CCS project and nor has the Applicant identified any potential alternative sources from which sufficient funds may be available."

What has happened more recently in the UK?

On 19 July 2018 The CCSU Cost Challenge Taskforce (established in January 2018) published Delivering clean growth: CCUS Cost Challenge Taskforce report giving the industry’s view on "how best to progress carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) in the UK, in order to enable the UK to have the option of deploying CCUS at scale during the 2030s, subject to costs coming down sufficiently" which is the Government’s stated ambition. The report identifies how this can be done:

  • A minimum of two CCUS clusters need to be operational by the mid-2020s for the commercial model to be tested – requiring investment decisions to be made by the early 2020s. The projects should be able to be funded by the private sector – but Government support must be certain.
  • Target industries, for which CCUS would abate the large quantities of CO2 emitted, include cement, oil refining, chemicals and iron and steel.
Resulting from the report, in November 2018 BEIS published a policy paper: The UK carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) deployment pathway: an action plan - setting out how government and industry can work in partnership to achieve the government’s ambition for CCUS. The paper emphasises that the "companies involved, many of whom rely on fossil fuels for the bulk of their revenues, must see finding routes to deploying CCUS solutions as an essential to their license to operate, as well as a chance to share in the economic rewards of leading in this burgeoning sector." The government expects industry to bear most of the costs.

Three new CCUS innovation programmes have been announced: 

Drax BECCS pilot

On 7 February 2019 Drax Power Station (located in North Yorkshire) announced that "The first carbon dioxide has been captured using C-Capture technology at Drax Power Station in their innovative bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) pilot"  The bioenergy comes from the burning of biomass which, in the form of compressed wood pellets from sustainably managed forests, is produced in three pellet mills in the US South. These are owned and operated by Drax.  Two thirds of Drax's generating units have already been converted from burning coal to burning biomass.  

The challenge now is to design the technology necessary to scale the process up 10,000 times to make the production of energy by Drax produce carbon negative emissions.  

On 4 September 2019, Drax launched the Zero Carbon Humber project in collaboration with Equinor and National Grid Ventures. This aims to establish the world's first zero carbon industrial cluster in the Humber region, using BECCS technology. 

Drax are planning to install a hydrogen demonstrator and test facility at Drax Power Station by 2026, with CCUS technology added to existing biomass units between 2027 and 2035. This would be followed by scaling up of hydrogen production to provide low carbon fuel to multiple industries across the region.

What legislation, if any, regulates CCS or CCUS?

Geological storage of CO2 is governed by the European Directive 2009/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 on the geological storage of carbon dioxide. The Directive is chiefly implemented in the UK by the Energy Act 2008 and various Statutory instruments.

The prospect of a possible Brexit has led to draft legislation being drawn up to give the UK Secretary of State various powers concerning CCS - The Storage of Carbon Dioxide (Amendment and Power to Modify) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018
In the UK, large infrastructure projects – like the White Rose CCS Project mentioned above – are inspected by The Planning Inspectorate but the government has the final say on government finance and therefore permission to proceed.

Local authorities approve projects in their own areas. Applications must be made available for the local population to view and make comments on, before consent is given or refused. Appeals against the rejection of plans by local authorities have to be made to the national Planning Inspectorate.

Further sources of information

The Global CCS Institute (GCCSI) 

Energy Insight details

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