UKCCSRC Knowledge Exchange Conference – Plenary session 1 (ECR Meeting Fund)

Shervan Babamohammadi and Ben Petrovic (both from Brunel University London) shares their takeaways from Plenary Session 1 at the UKCCSRC Knowledge Exchange Conference 2023.

As we write this blog, the UK is experiencing an unusual heatwave lingering from the extreme climate changes. While this sunny weather might be a welcome respite, we must not forget the scale of the global fight against climate change. The UK is poised to become a leader in this regard and remains dedicated to achieving the legislated net-zero emissions, addressing the challenges of decarbonisation, and accelerating progress in carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The first full week of September 2023, at the University of Sheffield, approximately 120 delegates from across the UK and Europe gathered at the first UKCCSRC Knowledge Exchange Conference. This forum covering each aspect of the CCS/CCUS value-chain, including capture, storage, transportation, regulation/legislation and investment. The first day kicked off with an opening address by Jon Gibbins, UKCCSRC Director, followed by Mohamed Pourkashanian, Head of the Energy Institute at University of Sheffield, highlighting the varied work planned for the Translational Energy Research Centre (TERC).

Mark Ellis-Jones from the Environment Agency kicked off the first plenary session with a presentation providing valuable insights into the role of regulation at both the local and national levels in achieving net-zero emissions. He stressed the importance of collaboration and a multi-faceted approach to address the challenges of transitioning to a sustainable, low-carbon future.

Effective regulation, according to Mark, is fundamental in achieving net-zero emissions. The EA focuses on four key areas: permitting and regulation (of the capture elements, abstraction licences, etc.), spatial planning (as a statutory consultee in planning, DCO), sustainable development (that delivers for the environment, the economy, and people), and emissions trading (as the administrator). Mark then elucidated the three areas of importance which drive their decision-making process: green tape not red tape – rethinking the regulation to accelerate capacity/capabilities providing new tech with public licence; climate impacts – to build resilience into infrastructure; and the local environment – to provide tailored solutions maximising potential collaborations.

He highlighted the role of “innovation” in environmental impact assessment and decision-making, showcasing a groundbreaking proof of concept that utilises digital twin technology. This innovative approach demonstrates how technology can (in the future) aid in assessing environmental impacts and guiding regulatory decisions. Achieving a sustainable, low-carbon future requires a shared commitment from all stakeholders, and Mark’s insights offer a valuable roadmap toward that goal.

Following Mark’s speech, Bryony Livesey, from the Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge (IDC) at UKRI, delivered an insightful presentation highlighting the challenges the IDC faces. Tackling industrial emissions requires a multifaceted and collaborative approach, including changes in fuel supplies, carbon capture and storage (CCS), electrification and hydrogen production.

The IDC sets out to make sense of all of this and, with £210 million provided by the UKRI matched with £261 million from industry, its aspirations to address emissions in energy-intensive sectors such as cement, iron and steel, chemicals and refineries seem more than realistic. The program primarily focuses on engineering designs for CCS and hydrogen production and distribution projects. These projects aim to maximise the value of new infrastructure whilst reducing emissions. Notable examples include Teesside, a region known for natural collaboration among industries, and the Black Country, a challenging area with numerous energy-intensive businesses integrated into residential areas. These regions exemplify the diverse challenges faced in achieving decarbonisation.

Bryony emphasised the importance of considering social impacts, job creation and air quality when developing decarbonisation plans and prioritising collaboration over competition. By addressing these factors, the clusters are working towards becoming the world’s first net-zero industrial clusters by 2040.

The final session saw Andrew Cavanagh, a senior researcher at the University of Edinburgh with over 20 years’ experience in CO2 storage analysis, provide food-for-thought on the potential for slow storage progress to undermine net zero ambitions. In his words, the rate of storage provisions needs to be increased by a factor of 4 (2 by 2030, 2 more by 2040) if we have a chance of reaching net zero by 2050. The UK has an order of magnitude less funding for similar ambitions of storage compared to the EU (20B for 30Mtpa vs 250B for 40Mtpa). What’s clear is that, historically, big projects are delivered late and over budget, a doubling of effort with regards to net zero would be a wise choice to ensure these projects set a new precedent. Andrew highlighted that without significant drive to increase storage capacity, there may be no credible way to net zero or the negative emissions required by 2100.

In conclusion, the first plenary session of the UKCCSRC Knowledge Exchange Conference provided a comprehensive overview of the critical elements required to enable net zero, address industrial challenges and bridge the gaps in carbon capture and storage. The speakers’ insights and expertise highlighted the urgency and complexity of the task at hand, while also emphasising the importance of collaborative efforts and innovative solutions to pave the way towards a sustainable, low-carbon future. The UK and its research communities continue to be a beacon of hope and knowledge in the ongoing battle against climate change, despite the pleasant heatwave in the UK now lasting longer than a cup of tea!