SCCS reminisces with partnership founder and CCS pioneer, Professor Adrian Todd. By Virginia Marsh
No one was more delighted than Adrian Todd when Boris Johnson made carbon capture and storage (CCS) a key area for investment in his £12bn 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution last November.
“CCS has now been accepted as a process. I’m very proud,” says the Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage’s (SCCS) founder and a pioneer of CCS. “There are a number of fields in the North Sea that we studied where CCS will now be a reality.”
Prof Todd has lived through CCS’s many ups and downs over the past 40-odd years – from the discovery in the 1970s of CO2 injection’s considerable benefits for oil production and building up the research base in the 80s and 90s to the founding of SCCS (then known as the Scottish Centre for Carbon Storage Research) in 2005 to the dark days of 2015 when the UK government axed £1bn of funding for large CCS demonstration projects.
It was a colleague’s sabbatical year in the US in 1976 that set Prof Todd, then a researcher at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, on the path to researching CO2 storage. The colleague, George Stewart (who went on to become head of Petroleum Engineering at Heriot-Watt), came back with first-hand knowledge of a then revolutionary new technique being pioneered in Texas - enhanced oil recovery (EOR) - which was of keen interest in the UK, then enjoying the heyday of North Sea oil.
“It was clearly very successful. The UK government established a committee on it and we applied for research funding straightaway,” Prof Todd recalls.
Prof Todd had joined Heriot-Watt in 1972 after three years at Shell in Manchester, becoming a professor in 1990 and an emeritus professor on his retirement in 2016. Initially a chemical engineer, he switched to petroleum engineering after completing both his PhD and first degree at Loughborough.
For many years, he says, the university’s CO2 research focused on oil recovery. Heriot-Watt acquired specialist simulating equipment enabling it to model the behaviour of CO2 in oil reservoirs, receiving two grants from the UK Department of Energy. At the same time, it embedded study of CO2 usage in reservoirs in its Masters in Petroleum Engineering courses, helping establish Scotland’s research and skills base in this field.
“It was only in the 90s that CCS began to raise its head and people began to consider using it [to capture emissions] at power stations,” he says.
By the 2000s, Heriot-Watt, together with the University of Edinburgh, had established itself as a leader in this emerging field, culminating in the formation of SCCS. The initial funding of almost £1.5m came via the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) which wanted to develop Scotland’s research base and strengthen areas of importance to Scotland which were not receiving significant financial support. The centre’s aim was to extend Scotland’s oil sector research skill base and use it in the fight to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
“It was a pleasure to be able to bring people and expertise together in SCCS,” says Prof Todd who led the centre until 2011. “In reality, there was already a consortium working in this area but we were able to get more out of it by putting people together.”
The new centre started with just five members but quickly attracted talented researchers.
“Adrian was a great encourager and enthusiast who could identify people’s skills. He could see CCS was going to become important and had the enthusiasm to tell you ‘this would be good for you and you would be good for it’,” says Prof Eric Mackay, one of SCCS’s first researchers and now a member of our directorate.
“Together with Stuart [Haszledine, now SCCS’s Director], he had the leadership and vision to look at a global problem and realise that by collaborating - first of all, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh, and later the British Geological Survey - we would be able to address it,” he says. “Universities and research organisations are competitors in some ways but for some of the bigger challenges the best thing to do – and the most enjoyable and satisfying way - is to work together. It had a big impact on myself and other researchers drawn into working on CCS – it’s been critical.”
Ground-breaking research followed including the CASSEM project which involved both academic and industry partners, demonstrating the value of multidisciplinary working. Importantly, it was also one of the first such projects to include the general public via citizen panels which were used to assess public perceptions of CCS – an area where Prof Todd says there is “still work to be done”.
|SCCS hosts a visit from China's Electric Power Planning and Engineering Institute (EPPEI) in May 2014. From left, Prof Adrian Todd, Prof Stefano Brandani, Dr Philippa Parmiter, Prof Stuart Haszeldine, Mr Xie Qiuye, Mr Xiang Li, Dr Jia Li and Dr Xi Liang|
SCCS – which turned 15 last year – has since grown to become a partnership of six research organisations, with more than 100 academics, and is involved in many of Europe’s biggest CCS/CCUS research projects.
Such international collaboration is strongly endorsed by Prof Todd. The Adrian Todd Golden Key Student Fund was set up on his retirement from Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Petroleum in 2016 to help its students attend international conferences or undertake international research. To date, more than 30 students have benefitted.
“When I retired it wasn’t easy to get research grants in this area. But climate change is now the big issue and CCS is part of the conversation, as we saw with the prime minister’s 10 points,” he says. “It’s great that SCCS has grown so much in size and in what it does.”
SCCS hosts a visit from China's Electric Power Planning and Engineering Institute (EPPEI) in May 2014. From left, Prof Adrian Todd, Prof Stefano Brandani, Dr Philippa Parmiter, Prof Stuart Haszeldine, Mr Xie Qiuye, Mr Xiang Li, Dr Jia Li and Dr Xi Liang