The UK could be on the verge of a carbon capture revolution, and the opportunities are incredible – if the right levels of collaboration can be found to progress them.
The UK Government plans to select at least two sites, known as clusters, to be set up in the UK by the mid-2020s for carbon capture and storage (CCS). Selected clusters will have a phenomenal opportunity to attract investment, to develop infrastructure and to build skills over the next decade and beyond.
We strongly support the cluster selection process across the UK but the development of CCS clusters in the UK is new territory and there are several barriers that must yet be overcome: finalising the legal and regulatory framework, delivering the technology and infrastructure on an industrial scale and securing the huge investment required to take it forward.
What is carbon capture?
CCS or carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) before it is released into the atmosphere. An effective carbon capture process can prevent up to 90 per cent of CO2 that is typically released by the burning of fossil fuels from reaching the atmosphere.
Once the carbon dioxide has been captured, it is compressed into liquid state and transported by pipeline, ship or road tanker, and is eventually pumped underground to be stored into depleted oil and gas reservoirs, coalbeds or deep saline aquifers, where the geology is suitable.
Naturally, with the UK's extensive North Sea oil and gas infrastructure already in place, there is a great opportunity to use that network for CO2 disposal.
Latest state of play
The UK Government is pushing on with its selection of the industrial clusters which are the readiest for CCUS networks. The plan is to select at least two clusters as a priority for Track 1, and to have them operational by the mid-2020s. A further number of clusters will then be identified as Track 2, to be operational by around 2027-2030.
The UK Government has kicked off a CCUS supply chain mapping exercise, together with a 'Fit for CCUS' programme to help UK companies to position themselves to win CCUS work. The UK Government will also develop a skills plan to ensure that the UK can provide a sustainable CCUS skills base and it is reviewing the financial support available to UK companies for accessing global CCUS work opportunities.
The mid-2020s deadline is an interesting one, mainly because it is looming fast. The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan talks about around 10m tonnes of carbon being captured by 2030.
But it will almost certainly will take the best part of a decade for the whole cluster ecosystem to be completed and for the processes and technology and delivery to be shown to be delivering on an industrial scale.
The regulatory model also needs to be finalised: we need to know how it will map into the business structures and commercial arrangements.
This does mean whichever other clusters are chosen for Track 1 will be pioneering the process and will be expected to identify the best practice from which future schemes can learn. This will give us a refined model for progressing with future clusters.
We await the next development – due on 9 August – with great interest. Whichever clusters are selected will have a great opportunity to be pioneers in this exciting new sector.