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Delivery of low-carbon power and products – regional pathways to carbon capture and storage (CCS)

The SCCS (Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage) organisation is clearly doing well, judging by the impressive turn out of over 150 delegates to this one-day meeting on the status and future of CCS. It took place on 28 October in Edinburgh.

The day opened with an invitation to sign up and play with the new mobile app which was to accompany the conference. The system was designed to provide information on the talks and posters, networking between delegates and even live voting on relevant questions. Perhaps in an ironic reflection of CCS in general, the app proved awkward, slow and, for a few of us, distracting and a waste of time and effort. However, once the programming was finally jiggled into place by the support staff, the results proved satisfying and serve as a reminder that sometimes useful technology takes a while to convince the public of its worth.

Papers and posters and results of the polls are available at https://crowd.cc/sccsconf15 (event code = ccspath)

After an opening welcome from Stuart Hazeldine, a well known face as lead of the SCCS, the meeting kicked-off with a presentation from John Ireland of the Scottish Government. His talk highlighted the intent of Scotland to go that little bit further than the rest of the UK by reaching 42% renewables by 2020, compared to 40% in the rest of the UK. The country had achieved 38.4% by 2013 but this is currently being revised down due to new data which leaves Scotland with a bit of work left to do. The closing of Longannet, the last remaining large coal-fired unit in Scotland early next year, will go a long way to helping Scotland achieve its target but will put pressure on remaining baseload (gas, nuclear and hydro) to maintain consistent output. The Shell Peterhead gas plant with CCS is the flagship of Scotland’s evolving CCS sector. The plant is expected to obtain approval for construction of the CCS area of the project early next year and the completed plant is expected to capture 1 Mt/y of CO2 whilst being the first full-scale gas CCS system in the world. Summit Power, a significantly smaller company than Shell, plans to build a 570 MW coal-fired plant with CCS in Grangemouth, Scotland, within the next few years.

Dieter Helm of Oxford University is a busy man, often advising to the UK Government on energy issues and so it wasn’t really surprising that his presentation was sent via a video link. He emphasised that CCS is a necessary part of any 2DS future (where the average global temperature increase is kept below 2 degrees). He reminded the audience that the COP 21 Paris meeting next month is based on country pledges and are thus not legally binding. China’s commitments do not apply until after 2030 and the country’s economy may have doubled by then. “Time is running out”. Dieter stressed that the spending on offshore wind in the UK exceeds that on CCS and that this is completely the wrong balance, in his opnion. The UK, and Scotland in particular, is perfectly positioned with oilfields and pipelines to be the CCS capital of the world. The hindrance to reaching this future is funding – CCS is seen as R&D and not a commercial investment. This needs to change and may only do so with the establishment of a feasible carbon price along with firm political and legal support.

Jerzy Buzek, former Prime Minister in Poland and now MEP, also video-linked into the meeting. He proudly spoke of the CCS work in Poland, especially in his home region of Silesia – underground coal gasification, CO2-EOR (enhanced oil recovery) and CCS. But he admitted that this is all only small scale R&D work. Krzysztof Bolesta, Political Advisor to the Polish Minister of the Environment, then gave a refreshingly honest review of the EU and Polish position on CCS. Despite several EU initiatives on CCS and plans to establish 12 or more demonstration projects there are only really 2 left in play – White Rose in the UK and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Bolesta blamed this on several issues – the financial crises, the low carbon price and the political situations in the Ukraine and Greece have dominated the EU workload. However, he also blamed:

– over regulation of the demonstration phase, the “better safe than sorry” approach was too restrictive

– proposed projects were too big and general with not enough focus

– there was over-optimism on the integration of projects and also on member-state buy-in. Some Member States and, in many cases, members of the public, were not as much in favour of CCS trials as was assumed.

Bolesta seems to be of the opinion that the coal sector in the EU is fast moving beyond the point of taking CCS seriously. Existing plants face increasing environmental regulations, combined with tightening renewable limits and decarbonisation targets, which mean that many plants are simply closing. Bolesta suggests that the emphasis should move to industrial applications of CCS and to transport and storage of CO2 – to provide storage options for those countries who may consider CCS but for whom storage is impossible. His lessons for the future included:

– CCS demos should be exempt from the current CCS directive to avoid stifling of projects

– projects should start small

– funding for CCS should be simpler to obtain

– projects should be only in those Member States who have a genuine interest. Others may follow later

– technology suppliers must invest more now in their potential future market.

Bolesta’s closing comments were the honest truths about CCS in Poland – “Poland is giving up on CCS” despite being one of the most coal-dependent countries in the EU. The existing coal fleet is too old to consider CCS and only 4 new plants are under construction in the “last wave” of coal investment. Poland is more likely to move to gas, nuclear and renewables than to move to coal with CCS.

The remaining talks of the event were more technical. Stuart Hazeldine returned to the podium to summarise the current situation in terms of CCS investment. Of the countries involved in next month’s COP21 discussions in Paris, only 3 have proposed plans which even mention CCS – Canada, Norway and China. And China’s commitment is merely an intention to further R&D in the area. In the USA the new Clean Power Plan proposes CO2 limits which would mean CCS in practice on new plants – but the plan has already been challenged by 24 US states. There is not enough confidence in CCS for it to be embedded into commitments, never mind legislation. However, Scotland, with the Peterhead and Summit full-scale CCS projects and the proposed industrial CCS hubs in Teeside and Grangemouth, could be poised to lead the movement to real and practical CCS.

Scotland has over 230 industrial CO2 emitters which fall below the 10 Mt/y reporting limit. But it also has many major emitters including the oil and petrochemical industries. 73% of Scottish industries are within 10km of the Feeder 10 pipeline which leads from Grangemouth up to Peterhead and potentially out to the North Sea. If this distance is increased to 20km, then 88% of Scottish industry is covered. Scotland is therefore well positioned to demonstrate an industrial CCS cluster which could eventually feed into the same EOR and storage sites as the major Peterhead and Summit CCS power plants, potentially establishing Scotland as a global leader in all sectors of CCS.

This SCCS meeting was lively and well attended, with over 40 posters available during the lunch break. Presentations will be available from the events page of the SCCS website shortly www.sccs.org.uk.

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