The vital role of CCS in delivering a post-COVID economic recovery

forest with sun filtering through trees

Today is World Environment Day, where the focus is on “building back better for people and planet”. While the focus of the UK Government is quite rightly focussed on fighting COVID-19, significant attention is also being paid to the stimulus required for economic recovery once the worst impacts of the virus have passed. The Committee on Climate Change has called on all UK nations to prioritise actions to recover from the pandemic based on principles including the use of “climate investments to support economic recovery and jobs”. A recent study in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, involving 230 leading economists, found green stimulus measures as among the most beneficial for the economy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week “We owe it to future generations to build back better”, and this week almost 200 companies have called on the Prime Minister to launch a green economic recovery plan, insisting future corporate bailouts take account of the UK’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Strong and consistent government policy will be needed, to direct the investment required for large infrastructure projects, ensure an orderly transition to net zero, and in doing so reduce the vulnerability of the UK to the destructive risks of climate change. Across the energy industry, many sectors are making their case for increased investment, and the government is calling for “shovel ready projects” to address the climate crisis, kick start the economy, provide jobs, and level up the north / south divide. 

It is clear that renewable energy projects such as solar and on- and off-shore wind will be high on the list of priorities, which will help to decarbonise the power sector, move us away from our reliance on fossil fuels and reduce our CO2 emissions. But a quarter of all CO2 emissions come from industries essential for prospering societies and economic development – such as cement, steel and chemical production. These industries can achieve reductions in CO2 emissions via increased efficiency and fuel switching – but completely decarbonising quickly enough is extremely challenging without the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS). Negative emissions technologies – those that actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere – will be required to offset any residual CO2 emissions if we are to achieve net zero by 2050. Bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) is the most advanced cost effective negative emissions technology, and is widely recognised as vital for the UK to reach net zero by 2050. C-Capture currently has a pilot project at Drax Power Station in Selby, the UK’s largest power station, which has converted four of its six generating units to use sustainable biomass instead of coal. Scaled up, BECCS at Drax could deliver 16 million tonnes of negative emissions per year, a significant proportion of the 51 million tonnes the UK’s Committee on Climate Change says are required for the UK to become net zero by 2050.

C-Capture’s CEO Tom White said

We are proud to be working alongside Drax as they make progress in their world-leading ambition to become carbon negative by 2030. Our BECCS pilot, the world’s first, is helping to answer all the questions which need to be addressed as we scale up our innovative technology

One technology which is becoming ever more prominent is the switch to hydrogen as a fuel. So called “green hydrogen” – produced via the electrolysis of water using renewable power – is an attractive option, but producing enough renewable energy for the quantities of hydrogen required is an enormous challenge. The use of fossil fuels to create “blue hydrogen”, combined with CCS, makes a carbon neutral fuel with no CO2 emissions when it is used. This will provide a valuable source of low carbon hydrogen until renewable energy infrastructure can be ramped up to provide a sufficient supply.

As the voices grow ever louder for a climate-focussed post-COVID-19 recovery package to form a green resilient recovery, it is essential it includes funding for CCS. The IEA, the CCC, the IPCC all agree that CCS is vital to get us to net zero. CCS infrastructure projects are necessary, and if the UK government is looking for shovel ready projects which create jobs and get us on track to net zero, the development of CCS plants around the model of decarbonised industrial clusters should be a high priority. It also produces the potential for huge export opportunities and wealth creation for the UK, which will be particularly important in the challenging years to come.

At C-Capture we are working hard to reduce the barriers to full scale deployment of CCS. Our technology uses 40% less energy than current commercially available technologies, and our unique solvent, developed in the UK, is non-toxic and could be manufactured from biological sources. The industry now needs policy and regulatory certainty to de-risk the investment decisions required to enable capital flight from carbon intensive industries to carbon negative ones. Certainty of when a viable large industrial scale CO2 transport and storage infrastructure will be in place will also help projects move forward.

C-Capture’s founder Professor Chris Rayner said

I have worked in the COand carbon capture and storage area for more than 20 years and the momentum behind it has never been stronger. We have developed a truly unique solvent technology which, once deployed at scale across a range of industries, will play an important role in delivering the carbon emissions cuts so desperately required.

Through the uncertain times of COVID-19, a better future can be built, and we are looking forward to playing a part in it.