A ScottishPower prototype carbon capture test unit that was recently in operation at Longannet power station.

Careers in carbon capture are nearer than you think

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) may not currently top the rankings when it comes to entry-level opportunities for graduates and young engineers but if you are compiling a one-to-watch list, it should be right up there.

CCS, the process of capturing carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuel power stations and storing it in a natural facility such as an old oil or gas field or saline aquifer, is vital in the global battle to tackle climate change.

Dr Jeff Chapman, chief executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA), admits it is frustrating that the industry hasn’t been able to progress as fast as it would like largely because of policy issues but has no doubt that the UK is well positioned to offer a raft of job opportunities and career paths for young engineers in the future. In terms of projects currently applying for European Commission funding, seven are from the UK and six from the rest of Europe put together.

“We are getting on with things much faster than other people,” says Chapman, who set up the CCSA in 2006 to raise awareness in the UK and internationally of the benefits of CCS as a viable climate change mitigation option.

“In the area of policy, regarding the regulatory side of things such as the ability to apply for a licence to store CO2, we have been well ahead of other countries and the Government has been fantastic in its approach and consultation with industry and ourselves.”

CCSA’s 80-plus membership brings together companies from across industry and includes specialist organisations.

THE UK’s early advantage

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) says the UK is well placed to “reap the benefits” of a first movers advantage in CCS because of its established engineering and project management skills in fossil fuel power generation and offshore oil and gas but also because we are leading the world in terms of research.

Universities such as Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Nottingham, Leeds and Sheffield are earning international reputations in the field of CCS and run specialist MSc and PhD programmes.

The Office of Carbon Capture and Storage (OCCS), part of DECC, is developing a 2050 roadmap that will set out the timescales on which CCS needs to be deployed and which addresses the policy and commercial issues. Meanwhile, a technology roadmap, this time by the International Energy Agency (IEA) CCS, anticipates that there will be around 500 CCS projects across Europe by 2050. It also estimates that globally 3,400 CCS plants will be needed by 2050 to meet the temperature target of two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

The future is nearer than you think

Such timeframes may mean that opportunities seem too far on the horizon for today’s young engineers and graduates but the future is nearer than they might think. The CCSA says the first UK plant will be operational from 2015 and will capture, store and transport CO2 from day one. A study published by Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage (SCCS) entitled Progressing Scotland’s CO2 Storage Opportunities, estimates that the UK’s share of the market could see UK jobs in the sector increasing steadily from this year to 2018 and then more rapidly year-on-year, reaching 70,000 by 2030. It also offers a detailed breakdown of engineering disciplines.

CCS needs a wide range of engineering skills

Chapman similarly stresses the importance of the need for a wide range of engineering skills across all three stages of CCS: capture, transportation and storage.

“Starting at the power station, you obviously have the involvement of electrical and mechanical engineers and also chemical engineers as capturing CO2 is essentially a chemical process,” he says. “Then, of course, there’s the engineering of the pipelines which will cover civil engineering. And in the storage of CO2 you have geology and reservoir engineering challenges.”

Clearly jobs will be filled by those transferring from other sectors such as oil and gas but as the SCCS study points out that there is also a need for newly trained personnel and, crucially, a need to identify and invest in the right training such as specialised postgraduate programmes.

Specialised postgraduate programmes

Those interested should check out university websites to not only find out what courses might be available but to keep themselves informed about research and developments and future challenges in the area of CCS (see Where to gen up on CCS box out below). We are also starting to see links being forged between industry and academia. Last year ScottishPower sponsored the UK’s first academic alliance to focus on CCS with Imperial College London and the University of Edinburgh.

As Chapman points out CCS is a “small world” at the moment, commenting that with only 10 years experience in the industry, he is classed as a “veteran”. Prior to setting up the CCSA he spent six years promoting UK interest in CCS technology with UK Trade and Industry and before this was director of an engineering consultancy. He advises engineering graduates who are interested in CCS to get themselves “carbon capture converted” via one of the MSc programmes running in the UK and stresses that the “great thing” about CCS from an employment perspective is that it is both a new industry and a proven technology.

“People have been injecting CO2 into oil wells for the last 40 years and piping CO2 across thousands of miles but all of this is nothing compared to the sheer scale of what is about to happen,” he says. “The massive surge in demand for CCS will mean there’ll be a need to develop new and better systems of capture, new and better systems for storing and monitoring, and generally optimising the whole supply chain. From an engineer’s point of view that means lots and lots of work.”

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