AFTER the firm leading Scotland’s flagship Acorn carbon capture and storage project made a significant advance last week excitement is growing about the potential of the scheme but probably not by enough to silence doubters.

The Acorn scheme is expected to involve using depleted North Sea oil and gas fields to store carbon dioxide to help clean up what are seen as hard to decarbonise industries and support the development of clean hydrogen fuel.

Champions reckon such projects could play a big part in the fight against climate change and hold out the prospect that they could generate or support thousands of jobs across the supply chain.

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Winners will include taxpayers who may find the multi-billion bills associated with decommissioning North Sea fields are reduced.

It is no wonder that Royal Dutch Shell and Harbour Energy, which operate big North Sea fields, are keen to see Acorn become a reality. On Friday it was announced that both had become equal partners in Acorn with the firm that is driving the project, Storrega Geotechnologies.

Last year Storrega acquired the Banchory-based minnow that spent years working up Acorn, Pale Blue Dot Energy. Storrega is backed by deep-pocked international investors that see huge potential in Acorn, in the form of Australian investment bank Macquarie, Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC and Japanese industrial giant Mitsui.

They have their eyes on what could become a huge global market. It is reckoned that around 2,000 CCS projects would need to be developed around the world to make the required dent in emissions. Acorn might provide a model that could be deployed elsewhere.

The academics in Scotland who have spent years championing CCS may feel the backing won by Storrega provides them with some vindication.

READ MORE: Glasgow university experts make case for carbon capture amid climate emergency

If all goes to plan Acorn will be operational by the mid-2020s. It could be the first project of its kind to go live in the UK.

But sceptics remain unconvinced. These include those who feel it is premature to talk about CCS projects being developed in their thousands before any large-scale projects have been proved to have delivered the expected benefits.

One big reason for being cautious is that CCS schemes in the UK will be dependent on the development of a market that does not yet exist.

Companies that are responsible for emissions currently lack the commercial incentives required to encourage them to invest in CCS schemes.

Storrega chief executive Nick Cooper is confident the UK Government will develop a carbon pricing regime that will provide the required incentives.

The Government has said it wants to have one large scale CCS scheme operational by the mid-2020s.

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However, in the recent North Sea Transition Deal the Government noted it still needed to develop a business model to provide revenue support and improve companies’ confidence for investing in carbon capture solutions.

People have been talking about using North Sea fields for years without any big projects going live.

Ministers have been unable or unwilling to provide the levels of support that corporations thought they should get.

BP promoted a £500m project to take carbon from Peterhead power station for storage offshore in the Miller field but pulled out in 2007 when Labour was in power.

In 2011 the Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition Government sparked outrage after it axed a scheme to use North Sea fields to store emissions from the former Longannet power station in Fife, which was promoted by ScottishPower, Shell and National Grid.

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Shell and SSE then looked at another scheme involving Peterhead power station. However, in 2015 the Conservative Government cancelled a £1bn project that was designed to develop technology which could capture carbon emissions from fossil fuel power stations.

In 2019 a report by MPs slated UK Governments for failing to provide the clear policy direction required on CCS and focusing too much on the cost implications.

Acorn faces competition from projects in areas such as Teesside as calls for action on climate change get louder.

Ministers will have a tricky job to do in deciding how to try to ensure that things move fast enough on the CCS front without providing levels of support that corporations and wealthy investors should not expect.