Carbon Capture and Storage - a silver bullet for our pollution problem?
By Tom Bedford, Net Zero and Smart Energy Training Manager, Keele University. This article first appeared as a Personally Speaking column in the Stoke Sentinel in August 2023.
The devastating heatwaves and wildfires we have seen across Europe forcing people to flee and holidays to be cut short are yet another symptom of the climate catastrophe we are heading in to.
However, one technology, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has been seen as the silver bullet to solve our pollution problem. A technology which stops damaging carbon pollution entering our air at the point it is being made. But, is it all it is made up to be and are there cheaper ways to create a safer, healthier world?
On Monday, the UK Government announced funding to support two new CCS sites in the UK. This long-awaited announcement helps clarify the direction of travel of CCS in the UK and starts to help us catch up with major projects around the world including those in Brazil, Australia, China and the US. This is important news as CCS is needed in all future scenarios to stop the worst impacts of climate change.
This technology stops carbon emissions by spraying chemicals on the smoke which attaches to the carbon, stopping it before it enters our air. Once trapped, it is transported through pipelines to permanent underground storage facilities - usually the big holes left in the ground by pulling out oil and gas.
The incinerator in Stoke-on-Trent is an ideal location to install CCS, trapping pollution and sending it to be permanently stored in the Irish Sea. In some of the hard to decarbonise cement works in the Moorlands it will almost certainly need to be installed. We can see this is already being considered with the recently announced Peak Park CCS project for the cement and lime industry. If done locally, CCS could create local jobs too. The Acorn project announced on Monday is expected to create 21,000 jobs in Scotland.
CCS can also play an important role in the creation of lower carbon Hydrogen which could help power the likes of JCB diggers and support the ambition of having Staffordshire as a leading low carbon logistics centre in the UK.
In a perfect world these solutions offer a great way to allow us to keep burning oil and gas without the damaging impacts. But history teaches us some important lessons about CCS. CCS projects are notorious for overpromising and under delivering. By now across the world they should have stored more than 200 million tonnes of carbon (roughly two thirds the UKs annual emissions) instead they have stored closer to 40 million.
Importantly CCS has also not been proven at the scale required to keep up with our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. This is even more concerning given the announcement on Monday to increase fossil fuel licences, a move we know is incompatible with limiting more extreme weather inducing warming.
We also know CCS is likely to come with a cost. A recent study by the University of Oxford calculated the additional cost of storing all of the carbon from the gas burnt in the UK and found that it would add an extra £480 a year to the average UK bill. All at a time of high costs and when low cost renewable energy and super efficient heat pumps are available to reduce our bills instead.
So, what’s the verdict? CCS is not only important but essential in limiting continued damage to the planet and the consequences reaped on our society. Local industries will more than likely be using CCS either directly at their sites or through the hydrogen and low carbon electricity they use. But CCS is not a silver bullet - instead it is part of the solution and there are a whole host of other lower cost solutions which can help us reach our goals and create a range of local benefits including lower energy bills.
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