Changing climate

Materials World magazine
1 Sep 2016

The cancellation of the £1 billion CCS competition and abolition of DECC does not necessarily spell disaster for UK carbon capture and storage. Khai Trung Le talks to Andrew Purvis on the state of CCS in 2016.

A statement regarding the repercussions of cancelling the £1 billion CCS competition in November 2015 by the National Audit Office (NAO) was held by some as signalling a diminished priority on climate change with the current Government. This was released only a few days after the decision to merge the Department of Climate Change (DECC) with a reduced Department of Business, Skills and Innovation. However, Andrew Purvis, EMEA General Manager of the Global CCS Institute, believes there remains a strong future for carbon capture in the UK.

The NAO statement accused the Treasury and now-defunct DECC of improperly quantifying the cost of the delay in developing CCS technology. Acknowledging that DECC had advised the Treasury that the meeting 2050 carbon emissions targets would cost an additional £30 billion without large-scale CCS, the NAO stated that the cancellation has set back CCS roll-out technology by a decade. The report specifies there may now be ‘no viable way to achieve deep emissions reductions from the industrial sector in the near future’, claiming that there is ‘now less time to build the CCS infrastructure required for it to contribute to the UK”s decarbonisation target’.

The report came days after the Government’s decision to abolish DECC, combining the responsibilities into the newly-formed Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), a decision that was met with scepticism from environmentalists and politicians, including former Labour leader Ed Miliband and global leaders alliance The Elders, featuring Kofi Annan and Desmond Tutu, saying that it would fail to encourage leadership on climate change.

But the changes within the Government did not faze Purvis, who noted, ‘Governments change structure. But what’s important is that the Government remains committed to progressing CCS technology.’

Trust in Oxburgh

Purvis remains optimistic that the UK will commit to CCS on the arrival of the Oxburgh Report. Commissioned by the Government, Lord Oxburgh is leading a small expert group including Professor Jon Gibbins, University of Edinburgh, UK, and Ian Marchant, Scottish & Southern, to report on the necessary steps to CCS-supporting infrastructure within the UK. ‘That report will be an important milestone in terms of setting up recommendations for CCS,’ Purvis noted. ‘We’re expecting the report to be delivered to the department hopefully within the summer, although it may be delayed given the changes in structure and ministers in Whitehall.’

Despite the closures of Peterhead, an Aberdeenshire gas power station and participant in both the 2007–11 and 2011–16 UK Government-funded CCS competitions, and White Rose, a proposed coal plant in North Yorkshire, Purvis was keen to extoll the progress made in other UK CCS projects.

Regarding the Caledonian Clean Energy project, a proposed new-build integrated gasification combined cycle power plant co-funded by the UK and Scottish governments, Purvis remarked that a recent report offered opportunities for ‘reuse of infrastructure in Scotland, particularly of natural gas pipelines that could potentially be used to capture CO2 from the central Scotland hub where the Caledonian project would be, taking it up to storage in the North Sea.’ The Global CCS Institute expects the Caledonian project to begin CO2 capture by 2022.

Perhaps more important is the development of the Teesside Collective, a cluster of industries aiming to create the UK’s first CCS-equipped industrial zone to position Teesside within future clean industrial development. ‘Firstly, it’s the only current global effort to really create a low-carbon industrial hub. Steel isn’t much of an issue in Teesside anymore, but chemicals, cement and hydrogen are. There are a number of industries in which the only way to decarbonise is going to be CCS because of the nature of chemical processes within them.‘ The CO2 capture start date for the Teesside Collective project is listed as ‘within the 2020s’. 

Rotterdam to Sleipner

Despite the setbacks in recent months, Purvis claimed that the UK remains one of the primary supporters of CCS in Europe, in addition to the Netherlands and Norway, where several large-scale projects are also hoped to go online shortly. ‘The Rotterdam Capture and Storage Demonstration Project (ROAD) 2020, Europe’s most advanced project, is almost ready to go online.’ Aiming to capture one million tonnes of CO2 annually, ROAD is one of the first projects to create an integrated chain of large-scale CO2 capture, transport and storage. The project has been delayed following the pushback on a final investment decision due to a financial gap created by the collapse in carbon prices. ‘But there has been a lot of efforts from the European Commission, member states and joint venture companies to close that gap,’ said Purvis.

Norway has been celebrating success with Sleipner, an offshore storage project in Stavanger, since 1996. Among the first CCS projects worldwide, Sleipner stores almost one million tonnes into the Utsira Formation, a sandstone reservoir, every year. Eyes are currently on whether Snøhvit, an onshore facility, will proceed following the cancellation of the Mongstad project, which led to a loss of faith in CCS technology. Three additional CCS facilities are also hoped to progress in Oslo. Purvis added, ‘The decision as to whether to proceed with those projects will be taken by the Norwegian Government in the context of their budget, which will happen in early October.’

Parity of policy

To truly allow CCS to flourish, Purvis called for greater policy parity that allows equal footing with other low-carbon technologies, including renewables and energy efficiency. ‘We’ve had a huge growth in investments for renewables over the last 20 years, which is welcome. But CCS has not received this, and the reality is if we are going to achieve 2˚C or more, it needs to happen. We need governments to set aggressive targets in terms of CO2 reduction for the long-term and deliver stable policy that enables CCS projects to happen.’

Purvis highlighted the Boundary Dam, Canada, and Kemper County, USA, projects as examples of successful implementation of CCS technology. Both have attracted considerable criticism regarding delays, cost and quantities of captured CO2 (Materials World, January 2016), but Purvis believes this is the price of progress. ‘First-of-a-kind projects are often challenging from an engineering perspective. But the learning we get will really drive costs down going forward – Boundary Dam is the world’s first coal power CCS project and came online in 2014. If you talk to SaskPower, they’ll tell you that if they did it again – and they would – they could deliver the same project at 25% capital cost reduction.

‘We need to deploy CCS in order to achieve those cost reductions. That’s not just learning by doing, but also in establishing infrastructure. If we bring in shared infrastructure, such as the Enhanced Recovery Projects model used in the USA, that will really help bring costs down. The likes of the Teesside Collective are really important in that respect.’