ICE's latest Insights paper assesses the contribution Carbon Capture and Storage technology could make in mitigating climate change in the UK.
The Committee on Climate Change has highlighted the vital role of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies for achieving the UK’s 2050 net-zero emissions target. It estimates that in 2050 somewhere between 75 to 175 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) will need to be removed by CCS annually.
But is CCS in the UK ready to make a significant contribution to the 2050 net-zero target?
What is CCS?
CO2 is produced as a by-product of various industrial and energy generation processes.
As its name suggests, CCS is the process of capturing and storing waste CO2 before it is released into the atmosphere. Once the CO2 has been captured, it is compressed into liquid state and transported by pipeline, ship or road tanker. It can then be pumped underground, usually at depths of one kilometre or more, to be stored into depleted oil and gas reservoirs, deep saline aquifers or coalbeds, where the geology is suitable.
CCS in the UK
To date, no commercial-scale CCS plant has been constructed in the UK. While CCS has gained attention in recent years from industry and policymakers, it has been slow to develop.
In the UK the greatest barriers to CCS are commercial, rather than technical. Analysis suggests the UK has more than enough potential capacity to meet its needs for CO2 storage to 2050. Although much of the CCS technology is now well-developed, costs of deployment remain high and there is little policy incentive to capture and store CO2.
This is why the Committee on Climate Change has recommended Government take a lead on CO2 infrastructure development, with long-term contracts to reward carbon capture plants and encourage investment.
In response, the UK Government’s 2020 Budget included renewed commitment to CCS with £800 million for a CCS Infrastructure Fund to support the establishment of at least two CCS clusters in the UK by 2030. Government has also indicated its willingness to use consumer subsidies to support the construction of the UK’s first CCS power plant.
More recently, CCS has also been identified as a technology that could form part of a low-carbon economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
CCS and the wider picture around net-zero emissions by 2050
CCS will need to continue to prove its potential. While CCS has an important role to play, it should be considered alongside a raft of other emissions reductions measures such as the deployment of low carbon fuels like hydrogen, electrification of transport and heating, societal changes to reduce carbon consumption and land use change.
CCS is not a substitute for no-or-low-carbon changes to current carbon-intensive energy generation and industrial processes (e.g. renewable energy or low-carbon cement), rather it would be complementary in supporting the UK’s transition to net-zero by 2050.