The UK is moving forward on its CCS journey through slowly advancing a basket of hub-based storage projects. Interconnected industrial capture sites are linked to a single offshore injection site, with considerable distance between the different capture sites and the landward CO2 terminal, an example can be seen in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: A conceptual map of two UK CCS projects and where they will store their captured CO2 [i]
These hub projects are the latest step in the UK’s relatively long but as yet unproductive CCS history, which started in 2005 when the first UK CCS project was initially proposed. The project concept was for CO2 capture from the Peterhead CCGT power plant with CO2 storage in the Miller field, 240km NE of Peterhead. The project failed to progress further than conceptual studies as funding could not be secured on the required timescale. In 2007 the first UK CCS competition was launched to fund a full chain demonstration or post-combustion capture project. Two preferred bidders were identified (i.e., Kingsnorth CCS project and Peterhead / Longannet CCS project), however Kingsnorth withdrew and negotiations regarding Peterhead were unsuccessful [ii].
2012 marked the start of the UK’s second CCS competition. Two preferred bidders were also announced: the Peterhead CCS project, again with capture at Peterhead CCGT power station, but with storage in the Captain Sandstone Formation in the Goldeneye field. The second bid was the White Rose CCS project with capture at the Drax biomass power plant and storage in a saline aquifer in the Endurance Structure in the Bunter Sandstone Group [ii]. At the time White Rose was also a successful applicant for the EU NER 300 funding program which provided finance for CCS technologies within the EU. Both projects were competing for approximately £1 billion in capital funding but in late 2015 the UK government cancelled the CCS commercialisation competition [iii] and Drax did not proceed with the NER 300 project due to financial constraints.
The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) became responsible for licencing CO2 storage in 2016 and in October 2017 the UK government published an updated ‘Clean Growth Strategy’ outlining a proposed pathway for the UK to become a “global technology leader” for CCS as well as stating that for the first time “over £2.5 billion will be invested by the government to support low carbon innovation from 2015 to 2021 [iv].
Figure 2: Visual representation of key steps in UK CCS history
The hub concept
Capture and storage infrastructure will be necessary to reduce industrial process and power generation emissions in line with UK government targets, with the two sectors producing ~155 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions in the UK during 2020 [v]. Over 40% of the 155 million metric tonnes were emitted by six industrial clusters located around the UK (see Figure 3 and note that the figure only includes industrial process emissions) and therefore it is logical that the UK government introduced a ‘CCS Cluster Sequencing’ approach where each CCS 'cluster' will be strategically placed across the UK in the vicinity of a specific industrial cluster.
In 2020, the chancellor announced that a new CCS Infrastructure Fund was being set up with at least £800 million available which was later revised upwards to £1 billion [vi]. The fund is set to support the delivery of at least two of the aforementioned clusters, one by the mid-2020’s and the second by 2030. This fund will provide the emergent CCS industry with financial support to develop project concepts further, ensuring a clear route on the pathway to the UK achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. It is currently planned that several CO2 capture projects will constitute each CCS cluster and each cluster will be connected to either one or multiple storage sites where CO2 can be injected.
Potential storage reservoirs
Since the early 2000’s there has been a focus on identifying suitable locations to store CO2 and five preferential storage locations (all offshore) have emerged so far:
Hamilton, North Hamilton and Lennox fields
Viking and Victor Rotliegend depleted gas fields
Based on existing geological studies these locations are the most likely and viable options for CO2 injection in the UK due to their geological suitability and large storage capacities for CO2. In the long-term they may make-up a large, interconnected CCS network, storing CO2 from various projects and clusters, acting as ‘CCS Hubs’. If all 5 storage locations become fully operational, they will be capable of sequestering approximately ~1.45 Gt of CO2 which is equivalent to over 4 times the total UK emissions in 2020 [vii].
Linking reservoirs to hubs
Figure 3: UK key industrial clusters and their industrial process emissions and UK key CCS storage locations and their capacities
Currently there are eight key ongoing projects that are distributed across UK industrial clusters and injection sites (Table below). These eight projects and several other smaller less developed projects are planned to contribute and make up the CCS ‘clusters’. However, the high capital costs to realise and operate CCS projects and supporting infrastructure, the numerous false starts over the previous 20 years and the withdrawal of £1 billion in funding suggests a low likelihood of most of the projects reaching execution and being operational.
At the moment, most projects are in a very early stage of their lifecycle, with concept studies rather than engineering studies being progressed so far. With the exception of Acorn, which is set to utilise pre-existing infrastructure from the Saint Fergus gas field [viii]. All proposed projects will require significant investment in transport and storage infrastructure, which is a major barrier to project development; currently, there is little evidence that transport and storage infrastructure is being developed or even progressed through the UK Nationally Significant Infrastructure planning process.
Table: Six major UK industrial clusters, their associated CCS projects and expected injection sites
Challenges to execution
The UK CCS market itself is clearly in an early stage of development. This development process is fragmented, with no established commercial model for sustainable CCS hub projects (at scale) and very limited existing transport and storage infrastructure that could be re-developed for CCS. In addition, unlike in the USA, there are no current volume-linked financial incentives in place to directly support the bankability and commercialisation of industrial CCS cluster projects. The UK government has offered limited capital and project maturation funding opportunities; the introduction of the CCS Infrastructure Fund with £1 billion in funding is a necessary step forwards but only replaces the full withdrawal in 2015.
The concept of interconnected CO2 storage sites and a network of CCS hubs has also been adopted by other countries with both Canada and the USA considered as the most advanced examples to date. The Port of Corpus Christi in Texas is currently developing multiple CCS projects on port-owned lands as part of a larger hub [ix]. Despite being at a relatively advanced stage they are still to ensure well integrity and conduct seismic surveys and thus are approximately ~4 years away from at-scale injection of CO2.
If the UK is to achieve a viable and functioning CCS network with numerous CCS hubs the fundamental element is a web of transport and storage infrastructure, otherwise the whole concept of a network is undermined. For example, it seems that many projects have overlooked the fundamental issue of transporting captured CO2 to storage sites through pipelines. Currently existing CO2 transport pipelines are limited to just the Acorn project.
It is clear that to achieve this goal a focus on infrastructure planning, permitting and development needs to be given more weight than capture technology or reservoir storage development. Transport infrastructure will cut through many landowners’ properties, council boundaries, greenbelt land, SSSI’s, Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation and intersect existing strategic infrastructure at sites across the UK. As demonstrated by HS2 and the Heathrow Third Runway, technology is a small challenge versus our culturally conservative and legislatively fragmented treatment of the land beneath our feet.
Furthermore, the UK is not the only player who is looking to establish a dominant CCS industry through an integrated CCS network. In Europe alone, both Norway and the Netherlands are also key players. Northern Lights [x], the world’s first open-source CO2 transport and storage infrastructure project in Norway has recently concluded all well drilling and has been all but greenlighted to start operations. In the Netherlands the Porthos project (a coalition of the Port of Rotterdam, EBN and Gasunie) is currently one of the most advanced large-scale CCS project within the EU [xi] and is expected to receive a final investment decision in 2023.
When faced with heavyweight competitors such as Norway and the Netherlands, the prospect of the UK establishing a leading CCS position in Europe becomes increasingly bleak. If the UK continues to lack the conviction to execute, how long will it be before they are left behind completely?