Scotland offers way to boost UK carbon capture and storage

Re-use of natural gas pipelines for transporting CO2 in Scotland could revitalise UK’s carbon capture and storage industry.
Published: Wed 10 Aug 2016

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is expected to be a major contributor to decarbonisation, especially in the UK which has become a leader in the technology. But the UK’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) sector is currently in a state of limbo, following the surprise and little publicized scrapping of a £1 billion ring-fenced capital budget towards commercialising CCS in the Autumn 2015 Statement last November.

That decision has left a policy vacuum that has yet to be addressed, but also resulted in the cancellations of two major CCS projects – the White Rose project in Yorkshire and the Peterhead project in Aberdeenshire – four years into their development.

The Peterhead project would have retrofitted carbon capture technology to an existing coastal gas-fired power station in northeast Scotland to capture around 1Mt/yr of CO2. Existing pipeline infrastructure would be used to transport the CO2 to an offshore depleted gas reservoir. The White Rose project proposed to capture around 2Mt/yr of CO2 from a new oxy-fuel power plant in North Yorkshire. A proposed CCS cross country pipeline would transport the captured CO2 to the coast linking to an offshore deep saline storage facility.

CCS in Scotland

Now the Scottish research group, Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage (SCCS), has come up with a proposal that may swing the balance. The proposal – building on what was proposed for Peterhead – is to re-use existing natural gas pipelines in Scotland passing close to centres of industrial activity to reduce the cost of transporting captured CO2 to geological storage sites already identified offshore in the North Sea.

Specifically, the Feeder 10 gas pipeline could collect and transport between 3.5Mt/yr of CO2, its basic capacity, and 10Mt/yr of CO2, its maximum capacity, captured from different Scottish industrial clusters.

The Grangemouth industrial complex has the greatest concentration of emissions and short connection routes to Feeder 10. It could capture and deliver around 2Mt/yr of CO2, with scope to increase that volume by 3.8Mt/yr if the proposed Caledonia Clean Energy Project – a 570MW integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plant (with carbon capture technology) – goes ahead.

A second collection network covering Fife and the upper Forth area could collect 1.7Mt/yr of CO2.

Indeed, around 80% of Scotland’s large-point sources of CO2 emissions are within 40km of the Feeder 10 pipeline. Its re-use would roughly halve the capital cost of transporting these CO2 volumes from central Scotland to St Fergus in the northeast for connection to offshore storage facilities, according to the SCCS study.

CCS in UK

SCCS goes on to suggest that the its study has wider significance for the UK and Europe. The scenarios presented could provide around half of the CO2 capture considered necessary for a scaled rollout of a developing CCS industry in UK by 2035.

“Our study shows that it is possible to capture and transport significant amounts of CO2 from industrial clusters in Scotland right now, with known technology and by converting existing infrastructure,” says Dr Peter Brownsort, SCCS scientific research officer and lead author of the study. “The presence of existing pipelines, both on and offshore, available for reuse can bring direct savings to CCS projects. This unique advantage, combined with the huge CO2 storage potential in the central North Sea, makes a strong case for initiating a CO2 capture cluster and transport network in Scotland, which could lead to commercialisation of a new offshore CO2 storage industry serving the UK and Europe."

CCS and decarbonisation

Clearly the UK’s CCS industry needs a stimulus and new direction. In its review published in February, the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee indicated the decision to terminate support for CCS would challenge the UK in meeting its climate change commitments and it highlighted the potential loss of knowledge, investment, assets and expertise. In a new report the National Audit Office has put a figure to this suggesting it could add an additional £30 billion per year towards meeting the climate targets by 2050.

With so much at stake, the sooner a decision is made on the future of CCS in the UK, the better.

And there have been some additional advances on the research front to support CCS. One, also from Scotland, is that CO2 from different sources has a distinctive ‘fingerprint’ which depends on where it comes from. As such it doesn’t need to have expensive chemical tracers added for monitoring purposes. The second, from the CO2CRC project in Victoria, Australia, is that CO2 can be safely stored underground for up to 1,000 years, ensuring its long term contribution to decarbonisation.