British Government’s plan for carbon capture & storage

Britain’s energy secretary, Ed Miliband has announced that no new coal-fired power station will now get government consent in the United Kingdom, without it having equipment to capture and bury at least 25% of emissions now and 100% by 2025 when CCS technology is expected to be technically and commercially proven.

Debate about the suitability of carbon capture and storage for New Zealand continues, as this recent SMC Alert illustrates.

The British SMC rounded up comment from British scientists on Miliband’s CCS grand plan.

Experts comment on Ed Miliband’s statement about the future of coal and CCS in the UK

Professor Richard Davies, Director of Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems at Durham University, said:

“The question many would ask is whether the CO2 will leak out? The North Sea offers many world-class sites where CO2 could be stored – we already know the geology is ideally suited to storing fluids (oil and gas) for tens of millions of years.  Although CO2 naturally leaks to the surface in some areas of the world we do need a rigorous and transparent method for assessing the risk of leaks so that informed decisions can be made on the lowest risk sites for CO2 storage.  At the end of the day, the environmental impact of not adopting CCS grossly exceeds the impact of some seepage”.

Prof Stuart Haszeldine, Scottish Centre for Carbon Storage at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“Our group, and others, have undertaken the research: we know where good clusters of power plants will be, and we know where large storage sites are located.  If these ‘capture corridors’ are built, UK CCS will be in a dominant position within the European Union.  The UK laws and licensing arrangements are ready to start.

“This is a big step towards accelerating routine decarbonisation of electricity from 2020, and total decarbonisation by 2030, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee.  Building new coal-fired power plants as ‘Capture Ready’, without operational carbon capture and a connection to a transport and storage cluster, now becomes unjustifiable.”

Dr Sue Ion, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“It’s still early enough for the UK to gain a real foothold in carbon capture and storage technology IF we get on with it. Now is the time for the UK to realise this opportunity. We learn and become leaders by doing – not by watching others do it from afar! The Academy has said on a number of occasions that CCS is essential if we are to drive towards a more sustainable coal sector within the energy industry.”

“However, the additional cost and the efficiency loss (both significant for post-combustion systems) mean that you will never justify CCS commercially unless the charges for carbon emissions via a carbon tax are a) high and b) consistent and predictable over the lifetime of the station.”

Prof Roger Kemp FREng, Professor of Engineering at the University of Lancaster, said:

“This is good news if we get on and do something. Up to now, CCS has only been demonstrated at any scale with CO2 separated from natural gas, not from coal. There are two important development stages – to demonstrate that the technology is possible with a coal-fired station and then to design and build a full-scale plant. The technology demonstrators planned are likely to cover only a fraction of the total CO2 produced in the new stations so it is important to move quickly from demonstrator to full-scale plants.

“The press release commits to ‘Full scale retrofit of CCS within five years of the technology being independently judged as technically and commercially proven…’ This feels like an indeterminate get-out, like Gordon Brown’s tests for joining the Euro. Unless the price of carbon increases dramatically, it is unlikely that there will be a commercial case for retrofit – particularly for the first few installations when the companies are still on the learning curve. Does this mean that the technology will not be “commercially proven” and so need not be installed?

“I would welcome a commitment with fewer weasel words to actually go ahead with the full-scale installation. This would force the pace of development in a way that the present statement fails to do.”

Miles Seaman, Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, said:

“Today’s announcement on the CCS scheme has the feel of sleepwalking into oblivion. The fact that there are now apparently 4 demonstration plants is new but the sizes and timescales lack so greatly in definition that it provides the government with the maximum opportunity to dither for a very long time. It is not clear whether these are full scale demonstration plants. They have apparently at last conceded that pre combustion capture requires evaluation. But consider the sense of urgency. We await a consultation on this to be issued in July. This could have been done 5 years ago so that like the Germans and Americans we would now have demonstrators in operation. Demonstration of the technology is expected by 2015 (by which time a number of other nations can be expected to have saleable technology) and full scale retrofit on coal fired power plants will not be expected until 2025.

Judging by this announcement, a 34% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 looks about as plausible as 3.5% GDP growth in 2011.”

Hannah Chalmers, Energy Technology for Sustainable Development Group at Imperial College London, said:

“Ed Miliband’s commitment to both require and fund CCS demonstration at new coal-fired power plants is an important contribution to UK efforts to mitigate the risk of dangerous climate change.  It is now crucial that the ongoing demonstrator competition and new levy mechanism for further plants lead to real projects operating as soon as possible.  Engineers and scientists in China, India and elsewhere are ready to collaborate with the UK on CCS.  Having experience to share from a successful UK demonstration programme should be an important part of global efforts to accelerate deployment of CCS.”

Brian Robinson, Head of Energy at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), said:

“Today’s announcement is good news for UK energy supplies, good news for UK carbon emissions, and good news for UK industry.  We need a diverse range of energy sources to meet our future needs and while boosting renewables and energy efficiency investment must be the top priorities, there will continue to be a legitimate role for coal in our energy mix.  But this can only happen in the context of rapidly declining overall carbon emissions, and that’s why CCS is so important.  We’ve argued consistently that pre-combustion technologies are likely to be a much more economically attractive approach for new coal plant than post combustion, which has wide application for existing, unabated plants.  Let’s now hope the words and aims expressed today are backed up by real commitment and funding in the future.”

Lord Chris Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency, said:

“This is the most important environmental decision the Government has taken, bar the Climate Change Act itself. We need to reduce dramatically the emissions from coal power stations and carbon capture technology offers real hope of a new era of ‘clean coal’. It is an essential element of any sensible energy policy for the next 20 years.

“This has the potential to change the face of power generation and enable the UK to sell this technology to the rest of the world. I’m determined that the Environment Agency will play a major role using our expertise in determining its effectiveness.

“We have been pressing for the introduction of Carbon Capture and Storage technology for some time and will do all we can to ensure it is developed as soon as possible to help us meet the ambitious carbon emissions reduction target of 80% by 2050.”

Dr Jon Gibbins, Senior Lecturer in the Energy Technology for Sustainable Development Group at Imperial College London, said:

“This is good news, but to make anything happen there has to be an effective way of recovering the costs of any CCS projects.  Otherwise it’s no new coal and no CCS.”