A Scottish university has linked up with a North Sea oil and gas firm backed by US billionaire Warren Buffett in a bid to help accelerate the drive to decarbonise the industry.

Heriot -Watt University has won backing from IOG for a research programme that could spur the development of carbon capture and storage projects which it is hoped could play a big part in the net zero drive.

Champions of carbon capture and storage have said depleted North Sea fields could be used to store huge amounts of carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise go into the atmosphere.

READ MORE: Carbon capture revolution will generate jobs bonanza for Scotland says key industry player

However, critics have expressed concerns about the technology, which has yet to be deployed widely at scale. Sceptics have suggested that leaks could reduce the effectiveness of CCS projects with potential threats to public health.

Experts at Heriot-Watt aim to identify North Sea fields that are suitable carbon sinks. An important part of the work will involve identifying the factors involved in establishing if such sinks are sealed effectively.

IOG, which used to be called Independent Oil and Gas, said the research will fill the gap in the geological analysis of the factors that maintain seal integrity at subsurface sites.

The company’s chief executive, Andrew Hockey, said the results of the research could play an important part in helping the company to maximise the potential to use CCS technology and related hydrogen production to cut emissions.

Independent plans to produce so-called blue hydrogen from the gas it expects to produce in the North Sea. This will involve separating carbon from the gas and storing it offshore.

“Rigorous technical analysis of nearby CCS potential is a key element in validating the investment thesis for blue hydrogen,” said Mr Hockey.

READ MORE: Oil firms underline potential of Scottish carbon capture project amid competition for UK Government backing

He said the collaboration with Heriot-Watt demonstrated the company’s support for the UK’s Net Zero commitment and the new strategy adopted by the North Sea regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority.

In the strategy it announced in February, the OGA said firms were required to take appropriate steps to help the Government to meet its net zero target while maximising the expected net value of economically recoverable petroleum from relevant UK waters.

The UK Government announced a North Sea Transition Deal in March, which recognised the potential to harness the expertise and capabilities offered by firms in the oil and gas supply chain to support the development and deployment of renewable energy and emissions reduction technologies.

READ MORE: £16bn North Sea Transition Deal angers campaigners but won't help firms survive crisis

Heriot-Watt professor John Underhill said he was delighted that IOG had elected to support research that would identify, examine and test carbon storage sites and other low-carbon renewable options in the North Sea.

He said the support recognised the relevance and impact of research that was being completed to decarbonise the North Sea, deliver the UK’s transition to Net Zero and maintain sustainable energy supplies.

The agreement provides a further sign that a growing number of oil and gas firms see enough potential in North Sea carbon capture and storage to be prepared to invest heavily in them.

Royal Dutch Shell and private equity-backed Chrysaor recently became equal partners in the Acorn project, which is expected to involve storing emissions from across central Scotland in the Goldeneye reservoir.

On Wednesday Neptune Energy confirmed that it had made an application to the OGA for a licence in connection with a plan to develop a North Sea CCS facility. It plans to link this to a hydrogen production plant.

READ MORE: Campaigners bid to take Government to court over 'unlawful' support for North Sea oil and gas firms

On Tuesday environmentalists said they were launching a legal bid to force the UK Government to end support for the North Sea oil and gas industry on the grounds it was both unlawful and irrational.

IOG has agreed to support research that will be completed at the GeoNetZero CDT centre for doctoral training at Heriot-Watt. GeoNetZero CDT is a partnership of 12 universities and eight companies. It delivers doctoral training in geoscience relevant to the low carbon energy transition.

Warren Buffett's Cal Energy Resources is backing IOG's plans to bring a range of undeveloped gas finds into production.