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Why meaningful action on Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage is critical to the UK’s net zero transition

Credit: Equinor

Net Zero Week

5 min read Partner content

As the UK prepares to host COP26 later this year – how can the country truly demonstrate that it is serious about meeting its net zero target and becoming a global leader in low-carbon technologies?

Since the Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon budget advice to cut emissions by 78% by 2035 was enshrined in law earlier this year, and net zero by 2050 was legislated in 2019, the vital role of Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) as ‘a necessity not an option’ has become increasingly apparent. CCUS is a climate solution which affects almost every part of the economy; reaching the harder to decarbonise vital industries such as iron and steel, cement and chemicals. It also delivers low-carbon electricity, provides a key route for low-carbon hydrogen and represents one of main options for greenhouse gas removal, either through sustainable bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) or Direct Air Capture and Storage (DACS).

Government has significantly stepped up its ambitions for CCUS and in November 2020 the Prime Minister set a target in his Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution of capturing 10 Mt CO2 per year by 2030 and delivering at least four CCUS clusters by the same date. The Climate Change Committee’s Balanced Net Zero Pathway went further and faster than this, stating that the UK needs to deliver five CCUS and low-carbon hydrogen industrial clusters, capturing and storing at least 22 Mt CO2 per year by 2030.

Fortunately, the UK already has a number of advanced CCUS cluster proposals in key regions of the UK; in Scotland, Teesside, Humber, South Wales and the North West. The development of CO2 transport and storage infrastructure will be the critical enabler for the creation of CCUS clusters – with multiple emitting industries sharing this infrastructure, the economies of scale provided by clusters can help connecting industries achieve net zero at least cost.

Several of the cluster proposals also include the development of low-carbon hydrogen and with the Government’s target of 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 its development will be essential for use as a low-carbon vector in a number of sectors; such as domestic and industrial heating and transport. CCUS and low-carbon hydrogen are inextricably linked and by co-locating CCUS clusters and hydrogen infrastructure, the UK can create industrial ‘SuperPlaces’ that will strengthen its global position as a climate and technology leader.

So how do we move beyond ambition to action and establish a CCUS industry that is in line with net zero and positions the UK as a global leader?

Most importantly, it is vital that the industry has clarity over the timeline for project delivery, backed up by clear business models and long-term funding that will enable companies to come forward with private investment. All eyes are on the current Spending Review, due to conclude in November this year, and whether this will include sufficient clarity over the funding required to meet the Government’s CCUS ambitions.

To develop a successful CCUS industry, it is worth taking a look at the extraordinary growth of the UK offshore wind sector – considered a success story for the UK. This industry benefitted from a framework that provided clarity for developers to deliver projects; a volume target, enduring business model and a funding envelope from Government that enabled private investment to come forward.

The UK is in a good position to deliver another success story through CCUS. This is largely due to a combination of two key facts: firstly, the UK is uniquely gifted with significant CO2 storage capacity – one third of the total storage capacity in Europe; and secondly, the UK has a number of high-emitting industrial clusters on the coast, close to offshore storage capacity. A spokesperson for the The Carbon Capture and Storage Association said: “We have recommend that CCUS infrastructure is urgently established in three key storage regions (Central North Sea, Southern North Sea and East Irish Sea), to connect industrial clusters to storage sites and drive the development of CCUS in line with the Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget.”

CCUS represents a tremendous growth opportunity for the UK economy. Not only will CCUS be vital for achieving the UK’s net zero goal, but it will also play a major role in delivering the Government’s levelling up agenda by supporting jobs and growth in the UK’s industrial heartlands. Due to unique advantages such as significant geological assets, clusters of industrial production and skills capabilities, the UK has a competitive advantage and could capture a substantial share of the global CCUS market – as much as £4.3 billion GVA per annum from exports by 2050. These opportunities will offer significant benefits for some of the UK’s most vulnerable communities – creating up to 60,000 jobs and saving a further 53,000 by maintaining industry jobs in a net-zero UK.

The UK needs to maximise this impact and opportunity by developing the UK supply chain, introducing clear business models across power, industry, hydrogen, CO2 transport and storage networks and greenhouse gas removals, and most importantly allocating sufficient funding to deliver domestic projects and scaling up to realise the export opportunities created though international deployment of these technologies.

One thing is clear – 2021 is looking extremely busy for CCUS. As long as we do not take our foot off the accelerator and Government provides clarity over the funding framework, the UK has the opportunity to create a world-leading industry with high UK content that will make a significant contribution to the net zero transition, enabling us to build back greener and position us as a leading country on the road to net zero at COP26.

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