Discussion panel – CCS in the UK: Moving forward (Part 3) – April 2016 Manchester Biannual

Jean-Michel Bellas is a PhD student from the Energy 2050 group at the University of Sheffield. His attendance at the spring 2016 biannual conference was made possible by the ECR Meeting Fund.

Since the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in November 2015, which confirmed the withdrawal of £1 billon of funding to support the commericalisation and deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in the UK, the future of CCS remains uncertain.

What are the thoughts of Eric Ling? Eric is a Senior Analyst from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) who formed part of the discussion panel on the final day at the UKCCSRC spring 2016 biannual meeting held in Manchester from Wednesday 13th to Thursday 14th April 2016.    

Jon Gibbins opened the discussion to the panel asking them to provide comment on what they think we can do to take CCS forward? 

Eric explained that the CCC are focused on meeting the UK’s 2050 target for an 80% reduction on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. The CCC believes CCS offers huge advantages in achieving energy decarbonisation in a range of sectors including power generation and industry. Furthermore, CCS can provide an opportunity for cost effective production of hydrogen and developing bioenergy with CCS. 

It is of critical importance that if CCS can work and be developed for energy decarbonisation it should be. Therefore, due to asset lifetimes from the energy sector, CCS must be deployed by 2030 in order to make a substantial contribution to the 2050 target. 

The CCC think that developing CCS and making it a credible abatement option by 2030 will contribute towards moving CCS forward. That’s 14 years away, which means we must put practice into action now.

Eric touches on the recent withdraw of the competition funding from HM Government, explaining that this may discredit the competition model going forward. Hence, it is important to consider other options to develop CCS and that the major challenges are addressed. 

To develop CCS, it is essential we can demonstrate that CCS works effectively. This is evident on smaller scale projects around the world and it is becoming less of a challenge. However, what about developing larger projects to de-risk investment? We have SaskPower Boundary Dam, what can be learnt going forward?  Eric emphasises demonstrating CCS from a commercial perspective is vital and the significant risks associated with this technology must be dealt with. 

The key risks across the CCS lifecycle include cross chain risk and storage risk e.g. storage liability. What would happen if a major CO2 leak occurred? Who would be responsible? What implications would it have on the CCS industry e.g. loss of investment, anti–CCS lobbyists, litigation, financial settlements and long term mitigation. Think back to 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. What impact has this had on the companies involved, notably BP?  

Eric indicates that without substantial government involvement these risks will remain, thus, hindering the advancement of CCS. In addition, Eric notes that the cost efficacy of CCS projects, in particular the storage and transport infrastructure costs pose a major challenge, which makes individual CO2 capture projects, look extremely expensive. To move forward, the government must have a role in building the transport and storage infrastructure required for CCS in the UK. 

Following the opening remarks from the panel, Jon Gibbins opens the floor to ask questions. Dr Mathieu Lucquiaud from the University of Edinburgh kicks off proceedings with “we have heard twice, yesterday and today, we can’t do CCS because it will only get us down to 80 to 100 g CO2 per kWh. I think that’s wrong when you say there is no long term future for CCS as there are many technologies that can get us down to zero emissions”. Another audience member mentions co–firing with coal and biomass and the life cycle emissions associated with CCS and sustainable biomass. Dr Mairi Black (UCL) and Mr Howard Herzog (MIT) both provide comment on the emissions of biomass and the cradle to grave life cycle of sustainable biomass. 

The specific question posed was the specific life cycle emissions associated with biomass for CCS?

Eric agrees with views from the audience and fellow panel member Professor Kevin Anderson that life cycle emissions must be considered. However, Eric mentions he was not aware of the “80 to 100 g CO2 per kWh” figure before, wondering, if the entire CO2 stream can be captured, would this value decrease? And can we mitigate those elements of the life cycle that are currently reducing emissions and can this be extended to transport and processing today or in the future with low carbon technologies in those sectors. 

Regarding the use of sustainable biomass, Eric notes, indirect land use change is the principle issue and the CCC have assumed there is very little sustainably sourced biomass likely to be available to the UK by 2050. This will have important implications; firstly, using sustainable biomass would reduce the cost contribution associated with stricter emission reductions in the future. Secondly, ensuring sustainable biomass is used where it will be most useful e.g. aviation biofuels. However, bioenergy without CCS is not a viable option in the bioenergy conversion process.  

Five further questions from the audience include: What role does CCS play in the power generation sector? Does advocating for zero emissions undermine the development of low carbon technologies? Can CCS be seen as a perfect solution for climate change mitigation now and in the future or will CCS be subject to scaremongering and become a necessary evil? Where does electricity storage fit in with climate change?  and what are your thoughts about building CCS infrastructure in the UK?

Eric notes that we will be looking at the implications of climate change now and for the next 40 years. The technology we have now will be developed and improved. In the future we will have new technology and the problems we can’t solve today will be solved in the future. We should aim for the perfect and aim for the perfect over time.

Regarding electricity storage, the CCC worked with Imperial College identifying different ways to reduce the CO2 intensity levels in electricity production. It emerged that flexibility is key in electricity storage, demand side reduction and interconnection. Having the flexibility, contributes to a cost reduction associated with CO2 intensity levels, however, if you don’t have energy storage, then CCS offers the greatest value to the power generation sector. Due to the development stage of energy storage, we are still uncertain what potential it will have in the future, however, it is evident from our work, electricity storage, demand side reduction, interconnection and CCS are all crucial components going forward.

To close the discussion, Jon asked the panel to provide some final thoughts on moving forward? 

Eric re-emphasised cost reduction as a primary factor suggesting without CCS the cost of meeting the 2050 target would double. Despite many political and media commentators suggesting CCS is a high cost technology, the actual capture cost is £20 per MWh, which can be reduced to zero. Real progress would be the actual construction and development of CCS transport and storage infrastructure throughout the UK allowing CCS projects to connect to the CCS network.