Carbon Capture and Storage

CCS is a popular political choice, when listing a menu of actions to reduce carbon emissions. Why then, has progress been so slow? The EU 2030 Climate and Energy package agreements, are re-enforced by the IPCC Summary in AR5, the November USA-China deal, and the November G20 statement. Does this now create a path towards future implementation? CCS projects are starting to emerge globally (22 large-scale projects operating or under construction), Boundary Dam in Canada opening in 2014, two expected in USA, and two in Canada during 2015. In 2018 Peterhead in Scotland will operate as a retrofit on gas combustion; but not until 2023 for Drax/White Rose co-funded by the EU under NER300. Two EEPR projects from the EU are struggling for finances: ROAD in Netherlands and Don Valley in the UK.

Capture of CO2 is currently expensive – although costs are predicted to decrease. Transport is known from decades of safe shipping and pipelines. Storage is well understood from many tens of natural analogues and tens of engineered test injections. Geology beneath the UK North Sea hosts enough storage capacity for more than 100 years of all EU power plant emissions; that is doubled by Norwegian offshore capacity. There is no technical need to wait.

However, despite a technology now regarded as proven, the business implementation of CCS is insufficient. CCS project numbers are about 10x too slow and CO2 storage evaluation is 100x too slow, compared to the IEA 2DS scenario towards 2050. Making profitable business is a problem – for power plant and for industry sites. The USA is using clean environmental legislation. Europe has failed by using a market. Fixing the market firstly requires both an ETS with a sufficiently high and reliable carbon price, and/or sharply focused emission performance standards. Second, political will is needed both at EU and at member state level to provide CCS targets and direct finances for coal and gas CCS plant, to support extra running costs, as is now routine for renewables. That needs to support 10-20 years of learning development and cost reduction.

Two alternatives are possible, to proceed much faster at less cost. First: certificates of carbon extraction could be created, to enforce storage obligations onto hydrocarbon producers. That may be more complex, but smarter, than divestment. Second: captured CO2 can be used for Enhanced Oil Recovery. That would produce taxable profit of many tens Billions. Cost reduction rapidly accelerates through profitable construction of capture plant to provide CO2, leaving an important legacy of operational pipelines connecting onshore sites of emissions to validated storage offshore. Yet UK Government is not negotiating with projects such as Captain Clean Energy – because of Levy Control fears.


Stuart Haszeldine is the world’s first Professor of carbon capture and storage, based at the University of Edinburgh. He trained as a geologist, and has over 35 years research and industry experience in hydrocarbons, energy, and environment. He is now working on carbon management techniques to reduce global (climate) change. He has been, and is, adviser to both UK and Scottish Governments. He is Director of Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage – the UK’s largest university research grouping examining CCS . He is also geological storage leader for the UK CCS Research Centre. He was elected FRSE in 2002, awarded the Geological Society William Smith Medal in 2011, and in 2012 was appointed OBE for services to climate change technologies.

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