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Commercial carbon capture and storage projects close to reality

Large scale commercial carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects this week took a step closer to becoming a reality with the announcement that the Energy Act had received Royal Assent.

Industry experts said the technology may now finally have a decent chance of success now the Act had been passed.

The Act will mean that funding for four CCS demonstration projects will now be generated via a special levy applied on electricity bills. Two demonstrations will be pre-combustion and two post-combustion.

University of Edinburgh professor of CCS Stuart Hazeldine said the move showed the UK was now “trying to make a decent business” out of CCS but admitted that it had “a very long way still to go”.

“The geological storage remains unproven, there are many theoretical predictions of the storage volumes and efficiencies,” he said. “The UK needs to ensure that a variety of CO2 storage sites are explicitly tested using the CO2 arising from these first CCS pilots. 

He said this could open a huge business for UK geological storage. “But this needs to be proven before anybody will buy into it,” he said. “The Netherlands and Norway are both moving rapidly onto this. The UK needs to do so too.”

“[The levy] will provide a 50%-70% assistance to the first project and the subsequent three in UK. As far as I know, no other nation has this level of ambition with funding to back it,” he said.

Gas CCS plants can also now be funded through the levy, a change borne out of lobbying. “That’s very important for the UK, which has more and more electricity generated by gas,” said Hazeldine. “And the output flexibility of gas plant in generating electricity may enable a plausible filling in of the troughs between renewable wind output in the future.”

The Department for Energy and Climate Change last month awarded an undisclosed sum to Eon and ScottishPower for initial design and develop commercial demonstration plants at Kingsnorth in Kent and Longannet in Scotland over the next year. This will be followed by one winner for the full post-combustion project. Three more government competitions will be launched this year to develop one more post-combustion and two pre-combustion.

While the four demonstration projects were originally intended to convert only a proportion of existing output to CCS, the levy could now fund the complete transition of those plants to CCS.

Shadow energy minister Charles Hendry warned that other countries would leapfrog the UK over CCS development if issues were not ironed out. “[For example], where there is a strategic role for government is in handling the whole exercise. Who should be responsible for the CO2 management?” he said, adding that a regulated monopoly could take charge of this.

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