carbon emissions uk

UK urged to ramp up carbon capture tech by 2030

Image credit: reuters

The government should commit to wide-scale deployment of new greenhouse gas removal technologies by 2030 in order to meet its net-zero climate change commitments, according to a report by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The technologies offer the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, such as aviation and agriculture.

Considering the scales needed, these technologies would represent a whole new infrastructure sector that could reach revenues matching that of the UK’s water sector by 2050.

The carbon removal technologies most commonly used are the direct extraction of carbon dioxide from the air as well as using bioenergy with carbon capture technology to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grows. In both cases the captured carbon dioxide is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.

While various carbon capture projects have been implemented in the UK, they can be expensive to maintain. In 2015, Drax Power Plant in Yorkshire was forced to pull out of an early test of the technology after the government cut subsidies that kept the project running.

However, the plant later became the first to use carbon capture technology on burning wood pellets using a unique process involving flue gases that helped it capture around a ton of carbon per day.

The report said that while the technologies showed promise, they should not be used as “an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors such as road transport or power.

Nevertheless, it said they would play a “critical role” in the future and that the government should kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s. Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in carbon removal technologies could also create an economic advantage as other countries look to source knowledge and skills from the UK.

The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removal technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.

With costs ranging between £100m and £400m per megatonne of carbon dioxide removed, this market could see revenues reach £2bn a year by 2030.

NIC Chair Sir John Armitt said: “Taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.

“While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find.

“To get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners.

“We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate that a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Scotland’s first carbon capture and storage system would come online by 2027 after oil firms Ineos and Petroineos signed an agreement with Acorn CCS to develop the project in Grangemouth.

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