Over 100 attendees gathered at our Annual Conference hosted at The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh on the 5th December to consider engineered and nature-based approaches to carbon sequestration. Throughout the day, speakers from academia, industry and government covered a wide range of topics related to the development and deployment of different carbon capture and storage (CCS) methods to reduce and remove carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and combat climate change. Click here to see full event details and presentation slides.
In her keynote address, Kersti Berge, Director of Energy and Climate Change, Scottish Government, highlighted SCCS’ instrumental role in bringing industry and government together to achieve Scotland’s ambition in CCS. She emphasised that carbon capture is essential to meet Scotland's emissions reduction targets and deliver a ‘Just transition’.
“Scotland's distinct geological and infrastructural strengths position us at the forefront of Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) opportunities,” she said. “Coupled with our wealth of relevant skills and capacity for innovation in the energy sector, Scotland has significant potential to be a leader in Europe’s emerging CCUS industry.”
Berge affirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to transforming this potential into reality, by showcasing Scotland's role on the global stage and demonstrating its substantial opportunities for investment.
Chris Bolesta, CCUS Team Leader in the Directorate-General for Energy at the European Commission, gave an overview of how the EU is driving the development of CCS as a strategic technology to achieve Net Zero. The EU aims to store 50 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 per year by 2030 and 243 Mt per year by 2050. To achieve this, the European Commission is committed to spending up to 16 billion EUR to capture CO2 in 20 countries and build 19,000 km of pipeline to store it in 13 countries. In addition, work is progressing on setting enabling conditions to attract investment, reduce the administrative burden and simplify permit-granting processes.
Next, Emily Sidhu, Director of Banking and Investments at the UK Infrastructure Bank (UKIB), and Paulina McPadden, Investment Manager at Baillie Gifford, outlined some of the issues that need to be considered when investing in CCS projects. Both engineered and nature-based CCS projects are within UKIB’s funding scope as they contribute to its strategic objectives: tackling climate change and supporting regional and local economic growth. When assessing such projects, the UKIB’s key financing considerations are delivery risk, performance risk, coordination or cross chain risk, revenue risk and market capacity. Baillie Gifford is investing in companies developing climate change solutions and is interested in CCUS projects that have the potential to produce carbon-neutral or carbon-negative products without uprooting industrial infrastructure. McPadden pointed out that although the cost of engineered solutions is high at present, it is likely to come down as they are scaled up. In contrast, while nature-based solutions are cheaper, their scope for growth is limited.
After a short coffee break, participants were able to get a taster of research from across the SCCS partnership into other forms of CCS such as biochar, enhanced rock weathering (ERW) and direct air capture (DAC).
Christian Wurzer, Engineer at the UK Biochar Research Centre at The University of Edinburgh, explained how biochar produced from biomass heated under oxygen-limited conditions can sequester carbon for centuries. Not only can biochar production be incorporated into existing industrial value chains to treat waste, but the biochar itself can be used as a soil additive or to produce carbon-negative plastic additives and construction materials. With over 130 production plants in operation in the EU, biochar is currently the main technology delivering CO2 removal. However, while the EU updated rules last year to allow biochar to be used as a fertilising product, in the UK biochar remains classed as ‘waste’, restricting its use as a soil-enrichment compound. Wurzer highlighted the need to address this regulatory obstacle to realise the full carbon-sequestration potential of biochar.
John MacDonald, Senior Lecturer in Anthropogenic Geomaterials at The University of Glasgow, presented his team’s work on ERW. Spreading crushed basaltic rock, a by-product from aggregate quarrying, on soils can remove CO2 from the atmosphere as CO2 can dissolve in soil porewaters and become trapped, forming carbonate minerals. While the dissolved CO2 eventually ends up in oceans, where it becomes stored, carbonate minerals improve soil health and increase crop yields. MacDonald and colleagues are currently exploring ERW deployment opportunities in Scotland, where there is an abundance of basalt feedstock. He acknowledged that further work is required to quantify the amount of carbon that is captured by ERW, but cited one report estimating that ERW could remove between 6 and 30 Mt of CO2 per year in the UK by 2050, representing up to 45% of the atmospheric carbon removal required nationally to meet Net Zero emissions.
Next, Giulio Santori, Senior Lecturer at The University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering, provided an overview of different DAC technologies and potential uses of the captured CO2. He is working on a European research project (SolDAC) aiming to produce ethylene, the building block for a vast range of chemicals, with a Photo-Electrochemical Conversion unit (PEC) that uses DAC CO2 and solar power. By sending the residual CO2 for permanent, geological storage, the entire process could be made net-negative and therefore, benefit from the sale of carbon credits.
Catherine Witt, Head of Subsurface at Storegga, gave an update on the Scottish Cluster and the Acorn project, the CO2 transport and storage infrastructure component that is essential to the UK’s decarbonisation efforts. With UK CCUS Cluster Sequencing Track 2 status confirmed in July 2023, Acorn is currently engaged in the due diligence phase with the UK Government and is aiming to be able to inject up to 10 Mt of CO2 per year by 2030 into North Sea stores. Witt highlighted some of the benefits that Acorn’s transport and storage system offers, including the extensive characterisation of North Sea stores that has already taken place, the potential to accept shipped CO2 from other regions, and its flexible and modular approach, which will enable investment and, ultimately, lead to the decarbonisation of 90% of Scotland’s industrial emitters.
In the last talk of the morning sessions, Tavis Potts, Personal Chair in Sustainable Development and Environmental Governance at The University of Aberdeen, gave a pre-recorded presentation on the societal considerations for CCS and CO2 removal technologies, and the importance of ensuring that the transition to Net Zero is fair, equal, inclusive and open. CCS has the potential to significantly contribute to employment growth within the UK, but for it to contribute to a Just transition, its role in community revitalisation and empowerment should not be neglected. Potts emphasised the need for CCS to gain social licence in the areas where it is going to be developed to be able to operate.
The afternoon session was opened by a keynote speech by Michelle Thomson, MSP for Falkirk East. She acknowledged that politicians need to “up their game” when it comes to tackling climate change, but remains optimistic about how emerging research and technologies, such as CCS, can address the challenge. Thomson is aware that the forthcoming closure of the Grangemouth oil refinery will put the Just transition to the test, and has already started to assess the impact that turning the refinery into a fuel import terminal will have on local supply chains and the skill-set within the region.
Her talk was followed by the presentation of four case studies illustrating how industry is advancing CCS. Tom Snow, Engineering Manager at SSE Thermal, talked about the Peterhead Carbon Capture Power Station project, a new combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power station with CCS technology that will kick-start wider decarbonisation in the Scottish Cluster. A Section 36 Application has been submitted for the 910MW project that will provide reliable, baseload power generation and capture and store up to 1.5 Mt of CO2 per year via the Acorn project.
Thomas Newell, General Operations Manager of The Future Forest Company Ltd., spoke about two nature-based solutions: reforestation, as a way of removing atmospheric CO2, and peatland restoration, as a means of avoiding CO2 release into the atmosphere, and their benefits for communities and preserving biodiversity. With Government funding and corporate sponsorships, The Future Forest Company has planted over 1 million trees to date in Scotland and Northern England, and is on track to achieve its goal of 1 Mt of future carbon capture by 2030 through woodland creation.
Ed Nimmons, co-founder and Director of Carbon Capture Scotland Ltd., explained how their proprietary biogenic carbon capture units are helping to overcome the challenge of dispersed site emissions. Since 2022, they have been capturing CO2 at an anaerobic digestion facility and using it to make dry ice. Through project Nexus, the company is now developing partnerships to enable the transportation and geological storage of captured biogenic CO2, initially from Scotland’s whisky industry, and aims to sequester 90% of the country’s biogenic CO2 emissions by 2040, which is equivalent to decarbonising 800,000 homes.
The final presentation by Gareth Johnson, Head of CCS Sustainability at Drax, covered large-scale bioenergy production with CCS (BECCS). He stressed that CO2 removal was no substitute for deep emissions reductions and Drax’s commitment to BECCS ‘Done Well’. By incorporating CCS technology, Drax Power Station in the UK could become the world’s first negative emissions power station. However, partly because of policy uncertainty and delays to the CO2 pipeline infrastructure, Drax is looking to first build BECCS plants in the US.
The SCCS conference came to a close with a panel discussion chaired by Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at The University of Edinburgh and SCCS Director, on the delivery, scale and benefits of the different ‘flavours’ of CCS. Emerging themes included the need to push carbon capture forward in all its guises, and for clear regulatory frameworks if the UK doesn’t want to lag behind other countries.
“We’d like to thank each and every one of our speakers and contributors, and to extend a special thank you to our event sponsor, SSE Thermal. Without all of them, the event simply would not have been possible. The conference brought to a close a very successful 2-day programme, that included our PhD Consortium, designed to showcase the latest thinking and action around the deployment of CCS to protect our atmosphere. It is heartening to see the breadth and depth of activity across academia and industry, yet we must do more. And that is exactly where SCCS will be picking up in the new year.”, said Gillian White, SCCS Programme Manage.