By Mark Williamson

UNIVERSITY of Glasgow scientists have underlined the potential to store carbon dioxide in depleted North Sea fields as a way of reducing emissions while noting work needs to be done to confirm the technology works at scale.

The university has become the latest to join the Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage partnership of organisations, which describes itself as the largest research group working in the field in the UK.

The Edinburgh-based partnership was founded in 2005 a few years after researchers working in countries such as Canada first suggested that huge amounts of carbon could be pumped into oil fields that had come to the ends of their lives.

Other members include the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde and the British Geological Survey.

The University of Glasgow’s move comes as growing concern about the problem of climate change combined with the downturn in the oil and gas industry triggered by the coronavirus crisis have helped spark a big increase in CCS.

Last month the head of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change suggested Scotland could become a carbon capture “hub” for the rest of Europe as part of plans to transform into a zero carbon economy.

Sector leaders have said the North Sea oil and gas industry could play a big part in the development of carbon capture and storage facilities.

A large number of depleted fields will become available in coming years in an area which contains pipeline infrastructure that could be used for the transportation of carbon dioxide produced by manufacturers and energy firms. North Sea supply chain expertise could be drawn on to help develop the facilities required.

University of Glasgow specialists made clear they think carbon capture and storage could have a big part to play in Scotland and the wider UK.

Gioia Falcone, professor of energy engineering and associate director of the Centre for Sustainable Solutions, said: “The offshore energy sector can be transformed to help the UK become a net-zero nation, with CCS playing a pivotal role in effective pathways ahead.”

Other experts from the university showed confidence that carbon capture and storage could help deal with emissions associated with industries such as steel production and new energy sources such as hydrogen fuel.

But Ms Falcone’s comments makes clear there is some way to go before people can be sure that carbon capture and storage systems can be developed on a big enough scale to have a meaningful impact on global emissions. There are no large-scale carbon capture and storage facilities in the UK.

She noted: “We look forward to facilitating progression from theoretical estimates of CO2 storage potential to actual large-scale CCS implementation in the UK.”

Iain Black, professor of sustainable consumption at the University of Stirling and co-chair of Friends of the Earth Scotland, recently questioned claims about the expected benefits of the technology. He said: “CCS has not been shown to work at anywhere near the scale required and has significant costs.”

Interest in Scotland is focused on the Acorn demonstrator project that is being led by Pale Blue Dot Energy. This is expected to involve using North Sea fields to store carbon dioxide that is a by-product of the production of hydrogen from natural gas. Pale Blue Dot expects the scheme to be operational in 2024.

Oil and gas heavyweights Shell and Chrysaor are collaborating with Pale Blue Dot.

SCCS director Stuart Haszeldine said Ms Falcone and her colleagues would bring a wealth of engineering and carbon capture and storage expertise to the partnership. This will strengthen SCCS’s contribution to climate action.