A low-carbon future
Decarbonisation of the power and industrial sector is one of the biggest global environmental challenges. By 2050 the UK is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% compared with 1990 levels. One technology that could be a game-changer is carbon capture and storage (CCS). Far from being theoretical science, CCS is now an available technology and ready to be deployed, with National Grid in the vanguard. Paul Sullivan, Business Lead for CCS, explains how.
A low-carbon future
"Our first CCS development is on Humberside, which has the UK’s highest concentration of carbon dioxide emitters, equivalent to around 10% of the UK’s total emissions."
Paul Sullivan, Business Lead for CCS.
As a nation we currently produce around 470 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, with the energy supply sector accounting almost a third of that total.
The UK’s journey towards its 2050 climate change target is not a straightforward one. New renewable sources of energy are being added to the generation mix, but while those technologies mature and our energy system adapts our need for fossil fuels will remain. The same challenges are being played out globally, with India and China alone planning a further 800 coal-fired power plants according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).
It is now widely accepted that carbon capture and storage (CCS) offers perhaps the best prospect as a so-called ‘bridging technology’ that can fill the gap until flexible alternative clean energy sources are developed, while keeping energy costs low for consumers. For many carbon intensive industries such as chemicals, steel, cement etc. it is the only realistic solution to reduce CO2 emissions affordably whilst retaining the employment and prosperity these industries bring to the UK.
As a nation we currently produce around 470 million tonnes of CO2 every year, with the energy supply sector accounting for almost a third of that total. So, against this backdrop, how could CCS make a tangible difference in cutting the UK’s CO2 output?
How CCS works
CCS is an available, proven technology that allows us to capture, transport and securely store CO2 emissions from fossil fuel power stations and industrial emitters. The CO2 is stored offshore, far beneath the seabed in naturally occurring porous rock formations, some of which may be depleted oil and gas fields.
CCS is split into three elements. First the CO2 is captured from coal and gas power plants or from industrial processes. It is then compressed and transported as a high pressure gas or liquid to an offshore storage site. Finally, the CO2 is injected into a storage site deep under the sea bed, ensuring safe and permanent storage.
For the past decade and more the UK has been in what was effectively a research and development phase. We are now ready to start deploying the technology, once we have been through all the necessary approvals, construction and commissioning processes, which includes consultation with the public.
We are moving in the right direction. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is well under way with its Commercialisation Programme for CCS and has pledged financial support for the technology through a capital grant of £1 billion and a Contract for Difference (CfD) feed-in tariff under the EMR regime for up to two initial projects. These two projects will both establish important transportation and storage infrastructure at scale that will accelerate the commercialisation of follow-
The UK is ahead of the rest of Europe in terms of developing CCS, where the application of the technology has stalled while a business model acceptable to governments and industry is agreed. However, CCS application is more advanced elsewhere in the world.
In the United States and Canada for instance, instead of being stored, in some projects the captured CO2 is being used for what’s known as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) – to recover oil deposits that might otherwise not be extracted. In these projects, storage of some of the CO2 used is a valuable side product with the costs being offset by the economics of additional oil recovery. The oil produced from this process has a lower carbon footprint than other extraction methods.
The next steps for CCS
National Grid has recognised the potential for CCS and in particular the development of an integrated
With this in mind we created National Grid Carbon Ltd as a subsidiary of National Grid and we are working with the Government and industry to identify the right transportation solutions and to attract new investors for CO2 storage.
Our first CCS development is on Humberside, which has the UK’s highest concentration of CO2 emissions, equivalent to around 10% of the UK’s total emissions. Here, we are a partner in the White Rose project, working alongside a consortium called Capture Power Ltd (CPL), which comprises Alstom, Drax and BOC (and also supports the development of the Don Valley Power project). The goal of CPL is to build an oxy-fuelled power station with full CCS of up to 426MWe gross output. The project will be capable of capturing up to 90% of the CO2 emitted by the power station – about two million tonnes a year. National Grid will be responsible for the CO2 pipeline infrastructure and, together with partners, the storage element of the project.
The new coal-fired power station will be located at the existing Drax power station in North Yorkshire. The CO2 will be transported along an 80km onshore pipeline to a pumping station on the coast at Barmston. From here it will be pumped along a 90km offshore pipeline to a secure storage site located in the southern North Sea.
Under the CCS Commercialisation Programme, the UK Government announced the award of an engineering design study (Front End Engineering Study or FEED) to the White Rose project in December 2013. We are anticipating a final investment decision by all the partners early next year. That timetable would then enable commissioning of the full chain to take place in 2021.
The Humber Cluster and beyond
The White Rose project is envisaged as the so-called ‘anchor load’ of a wider cluster of CCS initiatives in the region, potentially including the Don Valley project. This seeks to demonstrate CCS technology at a new power station at Stainforth near Doncaster. Together, we have received significant funding from Europe since 2010 which has supported the initial development of the Humber cluster.
The aim would be to develop a regional network capable of capturing up to 17 million tonnes of CO2 annually. The potential exists for the target storage site to ultimately accommodate CO2 from mainland Europe. This would require the development of further transportation infrastructure, which is therefore a future consideration.
Beyond Humberside we are also one of the partners in the Teesside Collective, which aims to establish Europe’s first CCS-equipped industrial zone in another part of the UK with a high concentration of CO2 emitters.
Similarly in Scotland, National Grid has been closely involved in a project to look at the potential of converting the Feeder 10 pipeline – a National Grid-owned asset that currently carries natural gas between St Fergus in Aberdeenshire and Avonbridge in Stirlingshire – into a high pressure pipeline to transport CO2 from the central belt of Scotland. Many industrial emitters are located within 20km of the pipeline’s route.
CCS and affordability
Of course, developing and deploying CCS technology comes at a cost, but at the same time the UK faces an expensive challenge ahead to meet its 2050 carbon targets. Research by the Energy Technologies Institute states that the development of a successful CCS sector could be the least cost pathway to meeting the 2050 climate change targets, saving around £32 billion annually by 2050 or the equivalent of £82 per household.
So, we are at something of a crossroads in the story of CCS. The technology is mature enough to be deployed, the first phase of potential projects has been identified and the analysis suggests that CCS offers the cheapest route towards meeting the UK’s 2050 environmental targets. The question now is how quickly we are able to translate potential into reality and start to reap the benefits of CCS to deliver a low-carbon future for the UK.
This article was originally published on 29 May 2015. Following the announcement on 25 November 2015 of the withdrawal of funding for CCS (carbon capture and storage) competition in the UK, National Grid will be reviewing its position and holding discussions with Capture Power Ltd (CPL), the consortium for the White Rose project, and others in the CCS industry.
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