Last week, the first ECR Net Zero Conference took place at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, with over 200 in-person and 75 virtual attendees.
It was a fantastic opportunity to gather early career researchers together from across the net zero community, giving them the opportunity to network and learn more about different but related disciplines.
It was also an incredible organisational collaboration between nine centres – C-DICE, CO2RE, CREDS, ERA, EnergyREV, IDRIC, TFI Network+, UKERC and ourselves.
Every session was a highlight, but most noteworthy were our two amazing keynote speakers. Mercedes Maroto-Valer, IDRIC Director, opened the conference by sharing her insights and experiences into “Net Zero: Past, Present and Future”, and Matt Winning, Senior Research Fellow at UCL and climate change comedian, closed the conference by giving career and communication tips, as well as showing us how to make jokes about climate change (!).
Full programme details can be found on the Conference page, and recordings and slides will be available soon (where we have permission to share).
Our ECR Meeting Fund helped support the attendance of many of our ECRs and here they are to share their experiences of the event…
Catrin Harris, Imperial College London
The ECR net zero conference was a great opportunity to meet researchers from a range of different research councils. I helped to organise and run one of the parallel sessions focused on “The social and environmental challenges of net zero”. The session involved ECR panellists giving their viewpoint on the main challenges, before breaking out into small group discussions. I learnt a lot from chairing this session, and it provided me with many interesting discussion points on the wider challenges of net zero.
Siqi Wang, Cranfield University
I found the “ECR Career Pathways and Knowledge Exchange” session very useful, in particular the workshop on developing elevator pitches. I had the opportunity to think about how I should present my PhD project according to the audience I am facing, and was able to practise it with fellow ECRs and receive feedback. It was also very interesting to hear about other people’s research and exchange my thoughts with them.
Jacqueline Penn, Newcastle University
The best and most surprising part of the Conference for me was the closing keynote speech from climate comedian, Dr Matt Winning. It was great to hear about his career journey and how he uses comedy to share important messages about climate change. His informative and entertaining speech was a great way to end the conference.
Oludayo Asuni, University of Sheffield
The ECR Net Zero Conference was the first academic conference I’ve attended as a Ph.D. student and it was an enlightening experience as I got to network with other ECRs and gain a new perspective on skills needed to address the Net Zero challenge. The Industrial Decarbonisation Panel was a personal favorite because I was able to discuss the key obstacles we are facing to foster effective stakeholder engagement and their potential solutions. After the completion of the conference, I was left with a deep impression of the importance of my work and the potential for significant impact if stakeholders were effectively engaged.
Doug Smith, BGS
We covered a lot of ground in the two-day conference, from reflections on COP27, industry engagement, implementing a just transition and obstacles to achieving Net Zero. It was great (and important) to hear how my research fits into the bigger picture and get a flavour of the many other projects that are underway. However, my highlight was meeting so many driven scientists at the outset of their careers who were keen to make a difference. It was also wonderful to meet some of the people that make the events like the ECR Net Zero conference and ongoing forums happen, as these connections enable (and sometimes force) us to come out of our own research bubbles.
Samuel Macpherson, University of Southampton
As researchers we often tend to focus in on our own area of research, but the ECR Net Zero Conference broadened my horizons hugely especially with regards to considering the effects of net zero technologies on society as a whole. The conference introduced me to “Just Transition”, the idea by which the transition to net zero must not negatively impact local communities and workers’ rights. This is something I will now take to heart going forward and will introduce to others, as well as incorporate the idea where I can in my future work.
Imran Ahmed, Newcastle University
For me, the best part of the ECR Net Zero Conference was discovering the increasing engagement from industry. This is exciting as it highlights the opportunities the push to Net Zero is generating for industry at all scales, from start-ups to larger companies.
Idris Bukar, Imperial College London
I’ve always wondered about how to get society more actively on board the journey to net zero; how to get the people to act beyond granting the social licence to deploy net zero technologies, and so I put that question to climate comedian and author Matthew Winning after he gave the closing keynote of the conference. The response I got was quite enlightening, which was that it is ultimately up to the people to decide to act, but that if I played my part and communicated my science clearly and passionately, it would make overcoming that inertia a whole lot easier.
The sixth and latest assessment on climate change from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the deployment of large-scale Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies are “unavoidable” if the world is to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions. The Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies (GHGT) conference series is one of the largest CCS and CDR conferences in the world and was formed in 1997. This year several early career researchers (ECRs) from UKCCSRC member organisations travelled to Lyon, France, for the 16th iteration of the conference.
For many of us it was the first large in-person conference due to Covid. It was good to meet so many people working in this area in person. The week was packed with amazing talks from researchers (from ECRs to renowned professors), industrial stakeholders and policymakers. Additionally, each day began with two interesting keynotes from high-level speakers, and more than 300 posters were presented on digital screens in the exhibition area.
GHGT-16 co-chair Tim Dixon opening the conference on Monday
Attending ECRs for UKCCSRC were Chris Holdsworth and Rory Leslie (PhD students at the University of Edinburgh), Saja Albdairat and Mohammad Arishi (PhD students at the University of Sheffield), Fidal Bashir (PhD student at University College London), and Augustin Prado and Matthias Mersch (PhD students at Imperial College London).
Chris and Rory mainly followed the geological storage sessions at the conference. On Monday, Chris presented his research, using isotopes to track the fate of injected CO2 at the Carbfix mineral storage site in Iceland. Throughout the conference, we saw exciting themes emerging in the geological storage of CO2. These themes included mineralisation of CO2 to provide enhanced storage security, higher resolution reservoir monitoring using downhole fibre optics and the trapping of CO2 in heterogeneous reservoirs. On Thursday afternoon, Rory presented his research on CO2 dissolution trapping in natural analogues.
Rory (left) and Chris (right) presenting their work on Monday and Thursday respectively
Chris and Rory also attended the field trip on Friday to the natural CO2 springs in the Clermont-Ferrand area. This was an excellent location to visualise what CO2 leakage might look like, and to practice the environmental monitoring techniques needed to quantify surface CO2 flux. The trip also included a visit to a sparkling water bottling plant, a great example of the ‘utilisation’ part of CCUS. The 27°C temperature may have made for a great day out, but the unseasonable warmth was a timely reminder that the impacts of climate change are already with us and the need for emissions reductions has never been greater.
The natural CO2 spring at Saladis (left) and nearby carbonate precipitation due to CO2 degassing (right).
Saja and Mohammad were mainly interested in sessions on capturing the CO2 that can then be stored in Chris’ and Rory’s storage. Many different CO2 capture approaches were discussed at GHGT-16, including several sessions on post-combustion capture using different solvents such as Piperazine (PZ) and Monoethanolamine (MEA). The latter is often used as the benchmark solvent. However, it has two main drawbacks: high energy consumption, and high operating and capital cost. Athreya Suresh from the University of Texas gave a highlight talk showing the use of PZ to reduce the energy consumption of the stripper. Saja presented another potential solution: a process modification including a multi-absorber feed with inter-heating stripper. This setup shows great promise compared to the standard configuration, because it has lower specific re-boiler duty and requires a lower solvent flowrate to achieve similar capture levels.
Mohammad was fascinated by next-generation rotating packed bed absorber technology. The so-called ROTA-CAPTM, developed by the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) and Carbon Clean (CC) with US DOE funding, is a process intensification technology by mechanical force. Rotation of the packing increases the mass transfer between the contacting fluids. A preliminary techno-economic analysis based on bench-scale data suggests carbon capture at 90% removal rate can be achieved at $30/tCO2. Compared to conventional absorbers, the technology can potentially reduce the required gas contactor column height by 20% and equipment sizes by up to 50%, while also reducing reboiler duty and solvent degradation. Mohammad also presented a poster titled “Technical analysis of post-combustion carbon capture using K2CO3 for large-scale power plants through simulation”. His work shows that the specific re-boiler duty of the studied process can be reduced by using K2CO2 instead of MEA solvent, from 4.97 GJ/tCO2 to 3.45 GJ/tCO2.
Augustin and Matthias were mainly following the system-level and policy sessions, as well as presentations from industrial stakeholders on real-world experience with CCS. Highlights included Brent Jacobs presenting long-term performance data from the Boundary Dam CCS project, showing good performance of the capture facility but challenges with the amount of flue gas that can be processed; Jasper Ros presenting learning from a commercial CCS plant in the Netherlands; and David Albarracin-Zaidiza introducing a steel-plant CCS project. Augustin presented his work on optimal deployment of negative emission technologies in the UK and interactions with the electricity system. Matthias presented a poster showing optimal deployment of BECCS and DAC, as well as abatement technologies, in the UK for different resource prices; as well as a CCS value chain optimisation model that optimises regional deployment of capture, transport and storage infrastructure.
Fidal found the panel discussion on industrial decarbonisation in developing countries using CCUS particularly interesting. It was a high-level panel with different stakeholders operating in developing countries. It was encouraging to hear the progress made by both the government and private sector in ensuring that net zero is achieved, with countries like Nigeria already leading the way in planning the establishment of CCUS hubs.
Finally, it must be noted that Lyon is a beautiful city located at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers. In our time off, we enjoyed the famous French cuisine and explored the city. Highlights were the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière and the Roman amphitheatres which overlook the city, as well as the lively streets on the Presqu’île (almost-island) and in old-Lyon. Thank you to the UKCCSRC for the support from their ECR Meeting Fund, it was a fantastic week.
View of the Rhône river in Lyon at night