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Can the UK lead the way in carbon capture and storage technologies ?

World Coal,

In the quest for a low carbon economy, carbon capture and storage (CCS) is continuing to gain a higher profile due to its potential to curb greenhouse gases and meet emission targets. For many countries, the race is on to be at the forefront of developing this relatively new technology and to harness the economic potential of CCS.

While the individual components of CCS are largely tried and tested, the technology as an integrated commercial solution is still unproven. There are just four full-scale CCS projects in the world at present – none of them capturing carbon dioxide from a coal fired power plant.

CCS competition
So how does the UK fair in its ability to be a key player in the global CCS marketplace? Success hinges on government and industry working together closely and with urgency to ensure adequate investment is made in the skills, technology and infrastructure that are needed. Of particular importance and urgency in the UK is developing a fully functional large scale demonstration project.

To this end, a CCS competition run by the UK government will fund the construction of a demonstration project with a minimum capacity of 300 MWe to go on line in 2014. Last month, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced that the CCS competition is now down to just two players: Scottish Power’s Longannet plant in Fife and E.ON’s Kingsnorth project in the Thames Estuary. Both are post-combustion projects. However, E.ON’s participation in the competition looks uncertain as it has decided to postpone an investment decision on the project for two to three years. E.ON claim that falling demand in the UK for electricity is to blame although environmental lobbying over the scheme has been significant.

CCS experts claim that Longannet is the front runner as it is the only proposal that could have CCS operating by 2014. Clearly a decision needs to be made soon as Britain runs the risk of lagging behind other countries in terms of having a proven demonstration plant, despite being ideally located for CCS due to easy access to suitable sequestration sites for CO2 in the North Sea.

Government funding
So far, the UK government has committed to helping fund four CCS plants in the UK – including both pre- and post-combustion coal projects. The first – the competition winner - will be funded by the Treasury, with the additional three plants being funded via contributions from electricity suppliers.

On 9 December 2009, the European Commission announced US$ 426 million of European money for wind power and CCS projects in the UK, with US$ 260 million being allocated for a CCS project in Hatfield, Yorkshire.

EICDataStream, the EIC’s powerful database that tracks more than 7500 significant projects across the entire energy supply chain shows that the UK currently has six active and five planned CCS related projects with a value of US$ 6.3 billion and US$ 6.1 billion respectively.

In addition to the contenders for the government funded pilot project, there are a number of CCS infrastructure projects on the table. Of particular significance is National Grid, which has drawn up a new business unit that will pipe carbon dioxide emissions from UK power stations and other large point sources for storage in geological formations beneath the North Sea. Suitable storage sites include saline aquifers or depleted gas fields. The group is developing plans to construct a US$ 3.2 billion carbon transport and storage network around the Humber estuary in Yorkshire, where five of Britain's largest coal and gas-fired power stations are located.

The CCS market
The global CCS market is estimated to be worth US$ 100 billion per year for the next 20 years, according to Nick Horler, chief executive, ScottishPower. On a global scale, there are many opportunities for the UK across the supply chain. Britain is likely to be involved in feasibility studies, ‘soft skills’ such as management and consultancy, balance of plant (BoP) and possibly front end engineering design (FEED) studies, providing a tremendous opportunity to become experienced in plant operations and system design.

Clearly, Britain must move quickly in terms of financing and getting UK projects off the ground, if it is to be a credible and significant player in the global CCS marketplace.


Mike Major, CEO of the EIC


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