Achieving a low-carbon society: CCS expertise and opportunity in the UK
Haszeldine, R Stuart
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The outcome of the Paris climate talks in late 2015 was hailed as a “turning point” for international action on climate change, with 195 countries agreeing to limit the increase in average global temperatures to 1.5oC by the end of this century. It is an ambitious and necessary goal, but is it achievable? An increasing emphasis on clean, renewable energy is essential, as are more efficient ways of using energy. However, the best of intentions will hit an insurmountable roadblock if we continue to burn fossil fuels without deploying Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). CCS is a chain of proven technologies that can take us all the way to a zero-carbon future. For many economies that will be reliant on fossil fuels for several decades, CCS can support a gradual phasing in of renewable energy. CCS remains the only path to deep cuts in carbon emissions from products such as cement, steel and fertiliser – even whisky – and will effectively decarbonise power and heat generation. Deployed on gas or sustainable biomass power, it can plug the gaps in the intermittency of power supply from renewables. And there are many studies that show that the UK and its assets are best placed to deliver CCS for the whole of Europe. Although CCS is already operating in other parts of the world, this climate change technology has had a tough time making progress in the UK. The latest blow came in the last quarter of 2015, within days of the Paris talks. Two major UK CCS projects were poised to begin construction after completing front-end engineering and design (FEED) studies. Without warning, anticipated funding from the UK Government’s £1 billion CCS Commercialisation Competition was withdrawn before these studies had been submitted. The Peterhead CCS Project, set to become the world’s first CCS project on gas power, and White Rose, which would demonstrate oxyfuel with CCS technology on coal power, have had little choice but to consider closure. In the aftermath of the COP21 climate deal, and with the UK’s own climate change advisers restating the importance of the technology in meeting the UK’s Fifth Carbon Budget, the case for CCS remains as cogent as ever. In the UK, we have access to an immense CO2 storage asset beneath the North Sea, which could contain a century of Europe’s carbon emissions. Added to that is an impressive track record of world-leading research and development (R&D), decades of oil and gas industry knowledge and skills and an infrastructure facing decommissioning that can be repurposed to put carbon back below ground. The progress and potential of CCS in the UK is much more than a government competition. This report describes why we need to get one of the most obvious and effective climate change tools back on track and highlights the strengths of and opportunities for the UK – and Scotland, in particular.