UKCCSRC Spring 2023 Conference – Plenary 2 “Challenges and technical solutions” (ECR Meeting Fund)

David Whitworth (Merlin Energy Resources Ltd.), Shervan Babamohammadi (Brunel University London), Sara Elmarghni (University of Wolverhampton) and Xiaoya Zhu (University of Nottingham) share their takeaways from Plenary session 2 “Challenges and technical solutions” at the UKCCSRC Spring 2023 Conference on “CCS from geographically dispersed industries”.

Focusing on some of the technical challenges associated with scaling up CCS across the UK, with a particular focus on Wales’ Net Zero efforts, this session immediately preceded the closing keynote speech and was attended by the entire cohort of delegates.

The session opened with an introduction from the Chair, Professor Stuart Haszeldine (University of Edinburgh), who introduced the session title and the four speakers. Ben Burggraaf, CEO of Net Zero Industry Wales, began the discussion by introducing the nascent organisation of which he is now at the helm. Net Zero Industry Wales (NZIW) was formed by the Welsh Government in 2022 to bring structure to the region’s net zero ambitions. NZIW oversees the South West Industrial Cluster (SWIC) decarbonisation efforts, in order to maximise efficiency and collaboration during the transition. NZIW’s overall aim is to “make Wales the country of choice for sustainable investment”, with Ben stressing the “significant role” that would be played by CCUS.

Dr Abby Samson (University of Sheffield) then spoke about Direct Air Carbon Capture & Storage (DACCS), outlining the numerous different techniques currently being developed both at Sheffield and across the UK and Europe, for what is ostensibly a versatile Negative Emissions Technology (NET). Abby highlighted that only 36 sites are truly dispersed, and some 199 sites emit >50kt of CO2 per annum.

It was clear from the ensuing discussion points that applications for DACCS are multifaceted, and can potentially be used in conjunction with other solutions such as natural gas, wind farms and solar installations. DACCS also represents a potentially profitable way of acquiring food-grade CO2 at a fraction of its current cost.

Lee Mills (joined by colleague Karl Shepherd) was next to present, introducing and outlining the work of Natural Resources Wales (NRW). NRW, formed in 2013, assumed the responsibilities of the Countryside Council, Forestry Commission and Environment Agency within Wales, as well as fulfilling some governmental obligations – with a budget of £180 million. The NRW is active in advising, regulating, and permitting within the Energy Transition sector, including mobilising responses to over 9000 environmental incidents a year.

After the presentations had concluded, the Chair opened the session to questions from the audience. Ben’s assertion that there is no reliable geological storage opportunity local to the SWIC was challenged by some of the more subsurface-oriented delegates, however he stressed the need for immediacy, with shipping likely offering the most flexible and cost-effective mode of transportation away from the Cluster, to a permanent storage site elsewhere. One question from the audience was around the possibility of repurposing ships that bring gas to Wales to take away captured CO2, however it was quickly established by Professor Haszeldine and others that the pressure-temperature requirements of supercritical (dense phase) CO2 during transport made this an impossible task.

Abby was quizzed on the feasibility of using DACCS offshore in conjunction with fossil fuel-producing facilities, and whether there were issues with co-location. Discussion turned once again to immediacy: it was acknowledged that DACCS represents a last-resort with regard to emissions abatement, and other decarbonisation strategies should come before DACCS with regard to urgency of deployment.

The session’s closing discussion focused mainly on the need for early and efficient public/stakeholder engagement about the realities of decarbonisation programmes, and also reinforced the need to act now. A general consensus was that “the perfect should not be the enemy of the good” when it comes to decarbonisation in geographically dispersed areas, where rapid deployment of all available techniques should be explored and supported.