Scottish firm plans to use oil and gas infrastructure to store CO2 in depleted beds ... but big players are notable by their absence.

CARBON capture and storage (CCS) sounds like an ingenious recipe for reducing carbon dioxide levels and tackling climate change ... take the CO2 from the burning of coal and gas in power generation, transport it to the North Sea and inject it deep into depleted oil and gas fields. CCS though is no easy, bargain basement solution. Projects in the past two decades have foundered because of the daunting costs and government unwillingness to subsidise the technology, which is as yet unproven in the UK.

This is about to change: last month Banchory-based Pale Blue Dot Energy (PBD) won the licence for its Acorn CCS project, which plans to reuse existing oil and gas infrastructure to transport and store CO2 and repurpose or rebuild an existing CO2 facility at the St Fergus gas terminal near Peterhead.

HeraldScotland:

Acorn is expected to capture around 200,000 tonnes of CO2 from the St Fergus terminal and using existing pipelines to transport it for storage in one of three depleted North Sea gas fields.

And unlike some of the aborted earlier schemes, Acorn is said to provide a relatively low-cost entry point for CCS in the UK, through a small-scale project from which an extensive CCS network could be developed.

CCS captures CO2 from the burning of coal and gas for power generation and from the steel, cement and other industries, and transports it to a suitable storage site where it is injected into the ground.

HeraldScotland:

Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at University of Edinburgh.

Proponents of the technology believe that CO2 may be Scotland’s biggest natural resource card, one yet to be played, with the North Sea’s oil and gas production balanced by an equal or greater amount of CO2 being put back in the ground.

Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at the University of Edinburgh, said that the CCS resource in Scotland equates to 35% of Europe’s CO2 storage potential, which can permanently store more than 100 years of emissions from the UK’s industry, power generation, heating and transport sectors. “Our location is one of the top three in Europe that can offer a CO2 storage ‘hub’, fed by shipping from around the UK and the EU,” he said.

Even President Trump has done his bit for CCS: In February 2018 he signed new tax credits into law (with, unusually, bipartisan support) that reward oil companies for CCS.

HeraldScotland:

Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.

However, not everyone is convinced that CCS is the elixir that answers the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change’s plea for “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities, in order to keep the rise in global temperature below the 1.5°C threshold.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, has said that as Scotland’s two coal-fired power stations are now closed, “the main rationale for CCS in Scotland has disappeared” adding that: “Instead of chasing something that we don’t need, the UK government should be spending its money on renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage, all of which deliver immediate reductions in carbon emissions.”

In 2015, the UK government cancelled its £1bn competition for CCS in which the gas-fired Peterhead power station was in the running. Shell and SSE had hoped to make Peterhead a commer-cial-scale, gas-fired, full-chain carbon capture and storage unit, the first of its type in the world.

Earlier, in 2007, BP pulled out of a plan to build the world’s first CCS power plant at Peterhead, citing lack of government support in time to establish the project.

Clearly there must be a reason for business to securely store fossil carbon, with effective carbon pricing and trading permits. Stuart Haszeldine proposes a scheme in which a certificate of storage for each tonne of carbon is given to fossil fuel producers.

The tax credit scheme in the US is certainly an incentive but companies operating in Scotland will be looking for a strong, persuasive business case to progress the technology quickly enough to make a significant impact on climate change.

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