UK

What is carbon capture and will it help the environment?

Carbon capture works by trapping CO2 before it escapes into the atmosphere and then storing it underground (PA)
Carbon capture works by trapping CO2 before it escapes into the atmosphere and then storing it underground (PA) Carbon capture works by trapping CO2 before it escapes into the atmosphere and then storing it underground (PA)

Hundreds of new oil and gas licences will be granted in the UK, with the Government committed to developing existing reserves as well as carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Apart from supporting thousands of jobs, developing new oil and gas in the UK will create fewer emissions than shipping it in from abroad, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

Because emissions produced from end users burning the fuel are only counted towards net zero if it is done in the UK, and with much of the fuel expected to sell internationally, the Government says new development is consistent with its target of becoming net zero by 2050.

Those opposing new developments, which include some of the world’s leading climate scientists and the Government’s own net zero advisers, say approving more extraction will weaken the UK’s climate reputation internationally and lock in decades of emissions at a time when they need to be drastically reduced.

Sunak
Sunak Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the Government is committed to supporting CCS technology as well as more North Sea oil and gas licences (Pete Cziborra/PA)

They say it will not improve the UK’s energy security – one of the Government’s key arguments – as it will take too long to begin production to have any effect on bills in the short term and up to 80% of it will be sold abroad.

The Government is pushing North Sea oil and gas producers to at least decarbonise their operations and it has made this a requirement to secure a new licence.

It is also supporting the development of CCS and has pledged £20 billion to try and build up capacity over the coming decades.

The PA news agency takes a look at CCS and how it could help with climate change.

– What is CCS?

Carbon capture and storage is the process of catching carbon dioxide (CO2) as it is emitted from a power station or factory, preventing it from going into the atmosphere, and then storing it underground.

It works only for CO2 and not other greenhouse gases such as methane or nitrous oxide, though CO2 is the most problematic as it stays in the atmosphere for centuries, locking in long-term warming.

Current technology captures around 90% of CO2 emitted but this is expected to increase.

Poole Bay drilling rig
Poole Bay drilling rig Rigs built to extract oil or gas from the sea may in future be used to inject liquified CO2 back underground (PA)

– How does it work?

CO2 is captured at source, compressed and liquified and then taken to caverns underground or beneath the sea where it is injected down to a depth of hundreds of metres.

Empty oil and gas reservoirs can be used if the geology is appropriate and companies are planning to use their extraction rigs to pipe down liquid CO2.

Net Zero Secretary Grant Shapps said he wants to create a new industry where the UK will store captured carbon from other countries and store it under the North Sea.

It is hoped CCS will capture eight billion tonnes of CO2 globally by 2050.

– Will it help stop climate change?

To an extent. CCS technology is not yet developed enough to balance CO2 emissions this decade; only deep and rapid emissions cuts can prevent the Earth heating beyond 1.5C of pre-industrial average temperatures, scientists have said.

CCS will be needed in the long term, however, as some industries such as cement-making are almost impossible to run without fossil fuels and will need a more mature CCS industry to balance out emissions.

The climate change committee, which plans the Government’s net zero path, has said CCS is necessary but it must also be coupled with a decline in fossil fuel production.

Direct air capture is another form of CCS to take CO2 directly out of the atmosphere, though this process is currently too expensive and energy intensive to be useful at the scale needed.

– Where is CCS being used?

There are about 30 CCS projects in operation around the world and the UK Government wants to support domestic development with £20 billion funding.

Two projects, in north-east Scotland and the Humber, have just been given the go ahead to begin constructing CCS plants.

They are in highly industrialised areas which should reduce the need to move captured CO2 over long distances.

– Why is CCS so controversial?

Many environmentalists see it as an excuse for the fossil fuel industry to maintain production and profits instead of cutting back to save emissions, hoping CCS technology will eventually mature.

It is still too early for CCS to make any significant contribution to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, with no guarantee it will eventually mature, and scientists have said that demand for high-carbon industries must fall in the absence of sustainable technology.