UKCCSRC September 2019 Conference: Core Research Projects #2

Louise Hamdy, Swansea University, Sanjay Mukherjee , Cranfield University and Hirbod Varasteh, Staffordshire University, write about the projects presented during the second Core Research session, on the afternoon of day one of the UKCCSRC Autumn Programme Conference.  

The UKCCSRC Autumn Programme Conference, held at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation on 4 and 5th September, was a fascinating multidisciplinary and highly technical meeting. Delegates from academia, industry and governmental departments from all over the UK and beyond, who work on all possible aspects of carbon capture and storage (CCS), came together to share their research and experiences, updating on the progress being made toward the UK reaching its 2050 greenhouse gas (GHG) emission target.

The UKCCSRC Core Research Projects #2 session concerned the Systems and Policy around CCS and its implementation. However, to start the session, we were treated to a re-scheduled Combined Systems and Capture presentation by Laura Herraiz from the University of Edinburgh on ‘Integration Options for Low-Carbon Hydrogen and Power Synergies’ from WP AC4. Laura presented synergistic design options for the integrated system approach to simultaneously generate low carbon hydrogen by steam methane reforming and low carbon electricity in a combined cycle gas turbine. This system allows excess oxygen from the gas turbine exhaust to be utilized in the steam methane reforming furnace. The findings indicated that this process can ultimately reduce the flue gas flow rate for the post-combustion capture plant and increase the CO2 concentration by more than three times – very promising in the effort to improve the efficiency of the carbon capture process!

Laura Herraiz discussed her research objectives her research on low-carbon and H2 and electricity.

David Rainer presented survey results of the public’s trust in information on energy-related technologies.

Next, we moved on towards the policies and the public perception of carbon capture technologies themselves. David Rainer from the University of Cambridge’s Energy Policy Research Group (EPRG) gave an interesting and enthusiastic talk on ‘Policies and the public perception of carbon capture technologies’. David first discussed the objectives of the UKCCSRC and outlined the role and activities of the Systems and Policy theme. He then moved on to get us all up to speed with global governments’ net zero (GHG emissions) targets, highlighting the UK government’s amendment to its Climate Change Act on 27 June 2019, passing a law to commit to net zero emissions by 2050. It was welcome news that the environment is now considered top of the agenda as the single most important challenge facing the UK. But, despite CCS technologies being touted as an integral aspect of the UK’s reaching its GHG emissions targets, the technologies feature little in the general public’s awareness, as David demonstrated from data collected by the EPRG. A survey conducted in 2019 shows that about 40% of the UK public had never heard of CCS.

Overall, the public’s scientific knowledge appears to be low and there seems to be a lot of confusion: for example, although 88% knew that using coal, oil and natural gas contributed to the greenhouse effect, 35% believed that climate change is caused by a hole in the earth’s atmosphere. Furthermore, there appears to be a lot of scepticism and mistrust on energy related issues with almost 30% having little or no trust in the UK government, and about 20% having little or no trust in the BBC. However, David put us all at ease and gave us hope that there is one source of information who is widely trusted: David Attenborough, with over 50% citing as a highly trustable source of information. Sir Attenborough has given a massive boost to the campaign to reduce plastic usage, is it time we request his services to whip up public support for CCS…?

Clair Gough discussing the ‘social license to operate CCS technologies’.

The next speaker was Clair Gough from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, University of Manchester, who presented two projects; the first project titled ‘Social license to operate and sustainability transitions’ and the second ‘Beyond social acceptability: applying lessons from CCS social science to support deployment of Bioenergy with Capture and Storage (BECCS).’ She explained that in this later paper she is looking beyond the single social acceptance and she tries to apply that in the context of CCS, including BECCS. She considers that establishing CCS is critical in BECCS. Clair considered CCS within the broader context of BECCS and the potential for carbon dioxide removal (CDR).

Clair noted that you could not treat CCS as a single entity. CCS is combination of carbon capture methods, transformation methods, applications, hydrogen technologies, and involves consideration of geographical situations, locations of technologies, ethics, and constitutional issues. Understanding the contexts and details of CCS deployment, and ultimately BECCS, are crucial to achieving social acceptability. Furthermore, she commented that BECCS is vital in the context of net-zero farming, and CDR measures will not be sufficient to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C.

The second area Clair discussed was about sustainability transitions, and Clair noted that this topic is more complex in terms of social science. The sustainability transition is long-term, multidimensional and fundamentally a transformation process. Clair explained that socio- technical systems are a combination of people, infrastructure and material elements, electricity systems, transport systems, and industrial systems. We are talking about great shifts on sustainability on those systems. Clair explained that there are three levels of the transition, including landscape, regime, and niche.

Finally, Clair explained the key objectives and discussed case studies of five CCS industrial clusters, and she mentioned that they would explore their potential to enable deployment of CCS, also giving details of the methodology. Clair commented that we are looking at five hypotheses and there must be an alignment between socio-technical narratives and socio- political agendas presented by advocacy networks.

Mai Bui from Imperial College London, presenting the role of CCS on the UK’s future energy systems.

Mai Bui considered the potential CO2 contribution from BECCS and CCGT-CCS.

The next speaker was Mai Bui from Imperial College London who presented ‘The role and value of CCS in the UK’s energy system’. The UK has set a very ambitious target of reducing GHG emissions to almost zero by the year 2050. However, it is important to know what technologies should be used to reach this target, when to use them and where to implement them. One of the solutions to mitigate GHG emissions is to electrify the private and public transport. This would require the building of new power plants to meet the resulting surge in energy demand. CCS will have a significant role in meeting this excess demand without needing to alter the current power system design. It can provide dispatchable low-carbon power to balance intermittent renewables.

Our next speaker, Vasileios Charitopoulos from the University of Cambridge, along with Mai Bui, emphasised the need for decarbonising heat in the UK. Heat demand accounts for 40- 44% of the final energy consumption and 30-37% of the total CO2 emissions. Therefore, decarbonising heat, through either electrification, heat pumps or hydrogen, could also be a favourable option for achieving the emission targets. Vasileios suggested that hydrogen will continue to be produced by methane reforming processes, therefore, a transition to hydrogen as a fuel for heating will increase the demand for natural gas which will result in higher CO2 emissions. Hence, CCS will be a necessary technology for decarbonising heating in the UK. Vasileios highlighted that gas systems are efficient and cheap, therefore decarbonisation of the heating sector will require thoughtful decision making and potentially high levels of policy intervention.

Mai had suggested that the IPCC’s target to keep the global average temperature increase to under 2 oC would be extremely challenging to achieve by decarbonisation/CCS or zero carbon policies alone. It is essential to implement negative emission technologies such as BECCS in order to achieve the 2 oC target. However, the economics of BECCS is currently unfavourable and therefore we need high incentives to encourage initial investment.

This session on the Systems and Policy concerning CCS was highly informative. It was particularly thought provoking on the very human issues around CCS, such as the public’s perception and acceptance, and the economics of the challenge. It was thoroughly fascinating to hear how different professionals in varied disciplines approach this subject area and we are interdependent on one another to move CCS forward. We must act now to reach our zero GHG emissions targets, and there are many options being considered, however policy will play the ultimate role in evolving our current energy paradigm, to realise large scale industrial CCS implementation in the UK.

This blog was co-authored by Louise Hamdy, Swansea University, Sanjay Mukherjee, Cranfield University and Hirbod Varasteh, Staffordshire University.