Carbon capture and storage: a global cure-all for decarbonisation?

Carbon capture and storage: a global cure-all for decarbonisation?


Both carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects and technology were showcased with pride at exhibits across the COP26 climate summit as the deal-makers and negotiators grappled with the big questions about how to decarbonise the planet.

In recent years, CCS has been labelled as the new-kid-on-the-block in the worldwide quest to achieve net-zero, even though the technology and processes have been around for quite some time. Unsurprisingly, at the climate summit, those countries who still own to being large producers, or users, of fossil fuels were keen advocates of CCS. However, there’s little evidence at this moment in time – in the UK at least – that we’re ready for it.


Investment for long-term development


We know, as global citizens, that we are still too heavily reliant on intensive carbon-emitting fuel sources; the ‘Big 3’, of course, being coal, oil and gas. And that some of the biggest emitters of harmful greenhouse gases are those that still have a long way to go to achieve carbon neutrality; we’re looking at heavy industry, transport, and the generation of electricity amongst others.

CCS technology is available to those industries and can be applied using different capture methods but there is still a requirement for development before it becomes widely adopted. In the UK there are some groundbreaking projects that are underway, but future funding – likely from central government – will be needed to keep the momentum going.


This ins and outs of capturing and storing CO₂ and is it safe to?


Let’s take a look at how a gas is captured. In relation to carbon dioxide there are three key categories for capture: pre-combustion, post-combustion, and oxyfuel combustion. Using the pre-combustion method carbon dioxide is removed before fossil fuel is burnt, so it stands to reason that post-combustion capture happens once the fossil fuel has been burnt. A useful bi-product of pre-combustion is hydrogen, which can also be separated and used as fuel. The third process – oxyfuel capture – replaces air with oxygen for the combustion of fuel which produces a mixture of water vapour and carbon dioxide from where it is then easy to separate CO₂.

Once captured, CO₂ is stored underground at depths of one kilometre or more, usually in exhausted oil and gas reservoirs or deep geological formations. Is it safe? Always the go-to question with a  relatively new technology; here we rely on reassurance from the Global CCS Institute when it says: ‘It is a proven technology and has been in safe commercial operation for 45 years.”


UK CCS projects and government support


There are two significant CCS projects underway in the UK at present:

  • Net Zero Teesside Power is an ambitious projects that will see the development of the world’s first commercial scale gas fired power station using CCS. It is estimated that the project will capture CO₂ equivalent to the energy use of more than 3 million homes, annually.

  • Project: HyNet North West, is located in north-west England and north Wales and is a hydrogen and carbon capture project that has significant environmental and economic benefits.

We’ll be closely watching the progress of these two great projects and following more as the government delivers on the pledges it made about carbon capture and storage in its recently published net-zero strategy.

Recognising the valuable contribution CCS can make to achieving a carbon-neutral economy, the UK government pledged to deliver four carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) ‘clusters’ with the aim of capturing (per year) 20-30 metric tons of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) from the UK economy by 2030. Also announced in the strategy was £19.5 million of grant funding to reduce cost by developing new CCUS technology and processes.


No panacea for decarbonisation


Unfortunately, there isn’t one cure-all process that will provide a solution to decarbonisation; it will require a mix of different technologies, methods and initiatives and effort on a global scale. However, we do predict that CCS will play a significant role to achieving net-zero due simply to the fact that it is capable of large-scale carbon dioxide removal, and on a fairly quick timescale.



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