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'Game-changing' carbon capture roll-out planned – but are 2030s too late?

Professional Engineering

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

The government hopes to roll out “game-changing” carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) at scale in the 2030s, following a planned first project in the mid-2020s.

The technology captures carbon emissions from power stations and industries such as cement, chemicals, steel and oil refining for storage or industrial use. Energy-intensive industries are responsible for 24% of global emissions, so CCUS is thought to be vital to meeting international climate-change goals.

The government announced its ambitions for the next decade and beyond as more than 50 international leaders, energy CEOs, manufacturing and finance firms gathered at an Edinburgh summit to discuss the next steps for making the technology a reality.

Leaders at the summit will set out an action plan for the UK’s first large-scale CCUS project, with commissioning planned from the mid-2020s. The ambition, a government announcement said, is to roll out at scale in the 2030s, subject to costs coming down sufficiently.

“Without CCUS as part of the solution, reaching our international climate goals is practically impossible,” said Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of summit co-host, the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“CCUS can also enhance energy security and boost economic prosperity. Yet, up until now, progress has been muted and if this continues the challenges we face in the energy sector will become infinitely greater. That is why the IEA is bringing together industry, governments and our own technology network – as well as the investment community – to make CCUS a reality.”

Solvent-based capture is one promising option for manufacturers. The process treats flue gas after combustion, absorbing carbon dioxide with liquid solvents. The technique is relatively simple to implement in existing facilities, making it applicable to energy-intensive industries such as steel, cement production and oil refining.

The captured gas could then go back into blast furnaces, bind concrete, recover oil, be used in pharmaceutical processes or even coffee decaffeination. In future, it could also be used for underground methane recovery or algae cultivation.

The plans from today’s summit include investing £20m to support construction of CCUS technologies at industrial sites, investing up to £315m in decarbonising industry and identifying existing oil and gas infrastructure for CCUS projects.

The UK government also announced £175,000 for Project Acorn in St Fergus, Scotland, to develop ways of transporting carbon emissions from where they are captured to storage. The Scottish government will match the investment and the European Commission will also provide funding.

OGCI Climate Investments will announce plans to open the first commercial end-to-end CCUS project in Teesside. The project will use natural gas to generate power, with carbon dioxide then captured and transported by pipeline for storage under the seabed.

Earlier this week, Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire said it will commission a bioenergy carbon-capture and storage pilot plant using technology from Leeds University spin-out company C-Capture, which was supported by £2m of government funding. If the pilot project is successful, Drax could reportedly become the world’s first negative-emissions power station – meaning the electricity it produces would help reduce the amount of carbon accumulating in the atmosphere.

“CCUS is a critical part of the future energy and industrial systems and the government is heading in the right direction with providing additional funding," said IMechE head of engineering Dr Jenifer Baxter. "However, the amounts are somewhat underwhelming and the translation into action in this sector is slow.

"The UK is well-placed to lead the world in the development of carbon capture and storage technologies, which are considered critical for decarbonising our whole energy system. Deployment of demonstration plants and low carbon industrial clusters should form a central part of our industrial strategy. The renewed focus on CCUS, is welcome but planning should be converted into action soon."

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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