Tag: Zero Carbon Humber

Transporting carbon – How to safely move CO2 from the atmosphere to permanent storage

Key points

  • Carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) offers a unique opportunity to capture and store the UK’s emissions and help the country reach its climate goals.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) can be stored in geological reservoirs under the North Sea, but getting it from source to storage will need a large and safe CO2 transportation network.
  • The UK already has a long history and extensive infrastructure for transporting gas across the country for heating, cooking and power generation.
  • This provides a foundation of knowledge and experience on which to build a network to transport CO2.

Across the length of the UK is an underground network similar to the trainlines and roadways that crisscross the country above ground. These pipes aren’t carrying water or broadband, but gas. Natural gas is a cornerstone of the UK’s energy, powering our heating, cooking and electricity generation. But like the country’s energy network, the need to reduce emissions and meet the UK’s target of net zero emissions by 2050 is set to change this.

Today, this network of pipes takes fossil fuels from underground formations deep beneath the North Sea bed and distributes it around the UK to be burned – producing emissions. A similar system of subterranean pipelines could soon be used to transport captured emissions, such as CO2, away from industrial clusters around factories and power stations, locking them away underground, permanently and safely.

Conveyer system at Drax Power Station transporting sustainable wood pellets

The rise of CCUS technology is the driving force behind CO2 transportation. The process captures CO2 from emissions sources and transports it to sites such as deep natural storage enclaves far below the seabed.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) takes this a step further. BECCS uses sustainable biomass to generate renewable electricity. This biomass comes from sources, such as forest residues or agricultural waste products, which remove CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. Atmospheric COreleased in the combustion of the biomass is then captured, transported and stored at sites such as deep geological formations.

Across the whole BECCS process, CO2 has gone from the atmosphere to being permanently trapped away, reducing the overall amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and delivering what’s known as negative emissions.

BECCS is a crucial technology for reaching net zero emissions by 2050, but how can we ensure the CO2 is safely transported from the emissions source to storage sites?

Moving gases around safely

Moving gases of any kind through pipelines is all about pressure. Gases always travel from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure. By compressing gas to a high pressure, it allows it to flow to other locations. Compressor stations along a gas pipeline help to maintain right the pressure, while metering stations check pressure levels and look out for leaks.

The greater the pressure difference between two points, the faster gases will flow. In the case of CO2, high absolute pressures also cause it to become what’s known as a supercritical fluid. This means it has the density of a liquid but the viscosity of a gas, properties that make it easier to transport through long pipelines.

Since 1967 when North Sea natural gas first arrived in the UK, our natural gas transmission network has expanded considerably, and is today made up of almost 290,000 km of pipelines that run the length of the country. Along with that physical footprint is an extensive knowledge pool and a set of well-enforced regulations monitoring their operation.

While moving gas through pipelines across the country is by no means new, the idea of CO2 transportation through pipelines is. But it’s not unprecedented, as it has been carried out since the 1980s at scale across North America. In contrast to BECCS, which would transport CO2 to remove and permanently store emissions, most of the CO2 transport in action today is used in oil enhanced recovery – a means of ejecting more fossil fuels from depleted oil wells. However, the principle of moving CO2 safely over long distances remains relevant – there are already 2,500 km of pipelines in the western USA, transporting as much as 50 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

“People might worry when there is something new moving around in the country, but the science community doesn’t have sleepless nights about CO2 pipelines,” says Dr Hannah Chalmers, from the University of Edinburgh. “It wouldn’t explode, like natural gas might, that’s just not how the molecule works. If it’s properly installed and regulated, there’s no reason to be concerned.”

CO2 is not the same as the methane-based natural gas that people use every day. For one, it is a much more stable, inert molecule, meaning it does not react with other molecules, and it doesn’t fuel explosions in the same way natural gas would.

CO2 has long been understood and there is a growing body of research around transporting and storing it in a safe efficient way that can make CCUS and BECCS a catalyst in reducing the UK’s emissions and future-proofing its economy.

Working with CO2 across the UK

Working with CO2 while it is in a supercritical state mean it’s not just easier to move around pipes. In this state CO2 can also be loaded onto ships in very large quantities, as well as injected into rock formations that once trapped oil and gas, or salt-dense water reserves.

Decades of extracting fossil fuels from the North Sea means it is extensively mapped and the rock formations well understood. The expansive layers of porous sandstone that lie beneath offer the UK an estimated 70 billion tonnes of potential CO2 storage space – something a number of industrial clusters on the UK’s east coast are exploring as part of their plans to decarbonise.

Source: CCS Image Library, Global CCS Institute [Click to view/download]

Drax is already running a pilot BECCS project at its power station in North Yorkshire. As part of the Zero Carbon Humber partnership and wider East Coast Cluster, Drax is involved in the development of large scale carbon storage capabilities in the North Sea that can serve the Humber and Teesside industrial clusters. As Drax moves towards its goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030, transporting CO2 safely at scale is a key focus.

“Much of the research and engineering has already been done around the infrastructure side of the project,” explains Richard Gwilliam, Head of Cluster Development at Drax. “Transporting and storing CO2 captured by the BECCS projects is well understood thanks to extensive engineering investigations already completed both onshore and offshore in the Yorkshire region.”

This also includes research and development into pipes of different materials, carrying CO2 at different pressures and temperatures, as well as fracture and safety testing.

The potential for the UK to build on this foundation and progress towards net zero is considerable. However, for it to fully manifest it will need commitment at a national level to building the additional infrastructure required. The results of such a commitment could be far reaching.

In the Humber alone, 20% of economic value comes from energy and emissions-intensive industries, and as many as 360,000 jobs are supported by industries like refining, petrochemicals, manufacturing and power generation. Putting in place the technology and infrastructure to capture, transport and store emissions will protect those industries while helping the UK reach its climate goals.

It’s just a matter of putting the pipes in place.

Go deeper: How do you store CO2 and what happens to it when you do?

How to build a business model for negative emissions

Watching a biomass train as it prepares to enter Drax Power Station's rail unloading building 2 (RUB2)

In brief

  • Policy intervention is needed to enable enough BECCS in power to make a net zero UK economy possible by 2050

  • Early investment in BECCS can insure against the risk and cost of delaying significant abatement efforts into the 2030s and 2040s

  • A two-part business model for BECCS of carbon payment and power CfD offers a clear path to technology neutral and subsidy free GGRs

The UK’s electricity system is based on a market of buying and selling power and other services. For this to work electricity must be affordable to consumers, but the parties providing power must be able to cover the costs of generating electricity, emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) and getting electricity to where it needs to be.

This process has thrived and proved adaptable enough to rapidly decarbonise the electricity system in the space of a decade.

With a 58% reduction in the carbon intensity of power generation, the UK’s electricity has decarbonised twice as fast as that of other major economies. As the UK pushes towards its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, new technologies are needed, and the market must extend to enable innovation.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is one of the key technologies needed at scale for the UK to reach net zero. Yet there is no market for the negative emissions BECCS can deliver, in contrast to other energy system services.

BECCS has been repeatedly flagged as vital for the UK to reach its climate goals, owing to its ability to deliver negative emissions. The Climate Change Committee has demonstrated that negative emissions – also known as greenhouse gas removals (GGRs) or carbon removals – will be needed at scale to achieve net zero, to offset residual emissions from hard to decarbonise sectors such as aviation and agriculture. But there is no economic mechanism to reward negative emissions in the energy market.

For decarbonisation technologies like BECCS in power to develop to the scale and within the timeframe needed, the Government must implement the necessary policies to incentivise investment, and allow them to thrive as part of the energy and carbon markets.

BECCS is essential to bringing the whole economy to net zero

The primary benefit of BECCS in power is its ability to deliver negative emissions by removing CO2 from the atmosphere through responsibly managed forests, energy crops or agricultural residues, then storing the same amount of CO2 underground, while producing reliable, renewable electricity.

Looking down above units one through five within Drax Power Station

Looking down above units one through five within Drax Power Station

A new report by Frontier Economics for Drax highlights BECCS as a necessary cornerstone of UK decarbonisation and its wider impacts on a net zero economy. Developing a first-of-a-kind BECCS power plant would have ‘positive spillover’ effects that contribute to wider decarbonisation, green growth and the UK’s ability to meet its legally-binding climate commitments by 2050.

Drax has a unique opportunity to fit carbon capture and storage (CCS) equipment to its existing biomass generation units, to turn its North Yorkshire site into what could be the world’s first carbon negative power station.

Plans are underway to build a CO2 pipeline in the Yorkshire and Humber region, which would move carbon captured from at Drax out to a safe, long-term storage site deep below the North Sea. This infrastructure would be shared with other CCS projects in the Zero Carbon Humber partnership, enabling the UK’s most carbon-intensive region to become the world’s first net zero industrial cluster.

Developing BECCS can also have spillover benefits for other emerging industries. Lessons that come from developing and operating the first BECCS power stations, as well as transport and storage infrastructure, will reduce the cost of subsequent BECCS, negative emissions and other CCS projects.

Hydrogen production, for example, is regarded as a key to providing low, zero or carbon negative alternatives to natural gas in power, industry, transport and heating. Learnings from increased bioenergy usage in BECCS can help develop biomass gasification as a means of hydrogen production, as well as applying CCS to other production methods.

The economic value of these positive spillovers from BECCS can be far reaching, but they will not be felt unless BECCS can achieve a robust business model in the immediate future.

With a 58% reduction in the carbon intensity of power generation, the UK’s electricity has decarbonised twice as fast as that of other major economies. As the UK pushes towards its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, new technologies are needed, and the market must extend to enable innovation.

Designing a BECCS business model

The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) outlined several key factors to consider in assessing how to make carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) economically viable. These are also valid for BECCS development.

Engineers working within the turbine hall, Drax Power Station

Engineers working within the turbine hall, Drax Power Station

One of the primary needs for a BECCS business model is to instil confidence in investors – by creating a policy framework that encourages investors to back innovative new technologies, reduces risk and inspires new entrants into the space. The cost of developing a BECCS project should also be fairly distributed among contributing parties ensuring that costs to consumers/taxpayers are minimised.

Building from these principles there are three potential business models that can enable BECCS to be developed at the scale and in the timeframe needed to bring the UK to net zero emissions in 2050.

  1. Power Contract for Difference (CfD):
    By protecting consumers from price spikes, and BECCS generators and investors from market volatility or big drops in the wholesale price of power, this approach offers security to invest in new technology. The strike price could also be adjusted to take into account negative emissions delivered and spillover benefits, as well as the cost of power generation.
  2. Carbon payment:
    Another approach is contractual fixed carbon payments that would offer a BECCS power station a set payment per tonne of negative emissions which would cover the operational and capital costs of installing carbon capture technology on the power station. This would be a new form of support, and unfamiliar to investors who are already versed in CfDs. The advantage of introducing a policy such as fixed carbon payment is its flexibility, and it could be used to support other methods of GGR or CCS. The same scheme could be adjusted to reward, for example, CO2 captured through CCS in industry or direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS). It could even be used to remunerate measurable spillover benefits from front-running BECCS projects.
  3. Carbon payment + power CfD:
    This option combines the two above. The Frontier report says it would be the most effective business model for supporting a BECCS in power project. Carbon payments would act as an incentive for negative emissions and spillovers, while CfDs would then cover the costs of power generation.
Cost and revenue profiles of alternative support options

Cost and revenue profiles of alternative support options based on assuming a constant level of output over time.

 Way to go, hybrid!

Why does the hybrid business model of power CfD with carbon payment come out on top? Frontier considered how easy or difficult it would be to transition each of the options to a technology neutral business model for future projects, and then to a subsidy free business model.

By looking ahead to tech neutrality, the business model would not unduly favour negative emissions technologies – such as BECCS at Drax – that are available to deploy at scale in the 2020s, over those that might come online later.

Plus, the whole point of subsidies is to help to get essential, fledgling technologies and business models off to a flying start until the point they can stand on their own two feet.

The report concluded:

  • Ease of transition to technology neutrality: all three options are unlikely to have any technology neutral elements in the short-term, although they could transition to a mid-term regime which could be technology neutral; and
  • Ease of transition to subsidy free: while all of the options can transition to a subsidy free system, the power CfD does not create any policy learnings around treatment of negative emissions that contribute to this transition. The other two options do create learnings around a carbon payment for negative emissions that can eventually be broadened to other GGRs and then captured within an efficient CO2 market.

‘Overall, we conclude that the two-part business model performs best on this criterion. The other two options perform less well, with the power CfD performing worst as it does not deliver learnings around remunerating negative emissions.’

Assessment of business model options

Assessment of business model options. Green indicates that the criteria is largely met, yellow indicates that it is partially met, and red indicates that it is not met.

Transition to a net zero future

Engineer inspects carbon capture pilot plant at Drax Power Station

Engineer inspects carbon capture pilot plant at Drax Power Station

Crucial to the implementation of BECCS is the feasibility of these business models, in terms of their practicality in being understood by investors, how quickly they can be put into action and how they will evolve or be replaced in the long-term as technologies mature and costs go down. This can be improved by using models that are comparable with existing policies.

These business models can only deliver BECCS in power (as well as other negative emissions technologies) at scale and enable the UK to reach its 2050 net zero target, if they are implemented now.

Every year of stalling delays the impact positive spillovers and negative emissions can have on global CO2 levels. The UK Government must provide the private sector with the confidence to deliver BECCS and other net zero technologies in the time frame needed.

Go deeper

Explore the Frontier Economics report for Drax, ‘Supporting the deployment of Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) in the UK: business model options.’

Attracting investment in emerging low carbon technologies

Biomass dome at Drax Power Station

Hello everyone. My name is Will Gardiner and I am the CEO of the Drax Group. It is great to have the opportunity to speak to you today at the Utility Week Investor Summit and to discuss attracting investment in emerging low carbon technologies.

Drax at the heart of the energy transition

My company Drax has been at the heart of Britain’s energy system for decades. And we have played a key role in the decarbonisation of the power sector: Drax Power Station in Selby, North Yorkshire, is the UK’s largest power station and Europe’s largest decarbonisation project. Cruachan, our Scottish Pumped Storage facility, is a key complement to Britain’s ever-increasing supply of offshore wind.

Our transition from coal to biomass has allowed us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by over 80% while providing clean and flexible energy to millions of homes and businesses across the UK.  This month saw the end of commercial coal generation at Drax power station – a milestone in the history of our company and of the UK economy, too.

But the drive to create a more sustainable, net zero economy means that we cannot stop here.

Which is why at Drax we have committed to a world-leading ambition to be carbon negative by 2030.

Engineer in the workshop at Drax Power Station

Engineer in the workshop at Drax Power Station

We will achieve this by increasing our capacity to generate renewable electricity, and by making a transformational investment in bioenergy with CCS, or BECCS, which will enable us to permanently remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

We are pioneering BECCS at Drax Power Station as part of the Zero Carbon Humber cluster, a coalition of diverse businesses with the same ambition: to create the world’s first net zero emissions industrial cluster.

I am delighted to confirm today that the Zero Carbon Humber Cluster project has received more than £21m in funding from the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to help accelerate our plans and to help transform our vision of a zero carbon industrial cluster into a reality.

The benefits are enormous

BECCS is a vital technology in the fight against climate change. Expert bodies such as the Climate Change Committee here in the UK and the IPCC at a global level are clear that we need negative emissions technologies including BECCS to reach net zero. And BECCS is central to the UK government and Europe’s decarbonisation plans.

As the world’s largest, and most experienced, generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to pioneer BECCS than at Drax.  The economic, social and environmental benefits are enormous.

BECCS at Drax will permanently remove millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere and help heavy industry in the UK’s largest emitting area decarbonise quickly and cost effectively;

It will enable the creation of tens of thousands of green jobs in the North of England, levelling up the economy and delivering a green recovery from the Covid crisis;

And it will put the UK at the forefront of global efforts to develop carbon removal technology in this, the year that we host COP26 in Glasgow.

A proven technology

We know that BECCS works and that the technology is available now. Looking at cost projections from the CCC, we also know that it is the best value negative emissions technology.

We have already successfully run two BECCS pilots at the power station. In 2019 we demonstrated that we can capture CO2 from a 100% biomass feedstock. And in 2020, we began a second pilot working with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to further enhance the potential for delivering negative emissions.

We aim to deploy BECCS at scale by 2027. To that end, earlier this month, we kickstarted the planning process for our proposals to build our first BECCS unit, marking a major milestone in the project and putting us in a position to commence building BECCS as soon as 2024.

A partnership between industry and government

Successful decarbonisation has always been a partnership between industry and government.

This is evident looking at the incredible rise of Britain’s offshore wind sector. As a direct response to government’s political commitment, a strong price signal, and an investable Contract for Difference mechanism, offshore wind capacity has grown from 1GW to over 10GW in a decade. And build costs are now two thirds lower than what they were 10 years ago.

Pylon that takes excess wind power to be stored at Cruachan pumped hydro storage power station in Scotland

Pylon that takes excess wind power to be stored at Cruachan pumped hydro storage power station in Scotland

At Drax, our conversion from coal to biomass was benefited from much the same framework:

  • The UK Government was – and continues to be – very strong in its support for biomass as a renewable technology to replace coal;
  • Our CfD mechanism has given investors the certainty they need to invest;
  • And successive government’s commitment to a carbon price that matches or exceeds that of our European neighbours has told the market that Britain is serious about decarbonising the power sector rapidly.

That combination of factors – a clear, transparent, investable framework for renewables, combined with a strong price signal from the UK government discouraging fossil fuel power generation – has been the key to driving private sector investment in renewable power technology in the UK. As a result, the UK leads the world in decarbonising its electricity sector, while also enabling a global technology revolution in offshore wind power. Importantly, the whole effort has been underpinned by transparency, competition and confidence in the regulatory and legal framework, all of which are critical.

Building a partnership for the future

By continuing this partnership between industry and government, the UK could become the world leader in emerging green technologies such as BECCS.

Right now, markets and regulatory frameworks for BECCS or negative emissions more broadly either don’t exist – or aren’t flexible enough – to support the scaling of the technologies we need to get to net zero. But the first-generation framework, as I have just described, provides a great model.

Fundamentally, we believe that we can do BECCS at a cost of less than £100/t of CO2, which is less than any other negative emissions technology available.

We know this investment will help the UK reach net zero at a lower cost than it otherwise could do.

Maintenance inside a water cooling tower at Drax Power Station

Maintenance inside a water cooling tower at Drax Power Station

But although we’re ready to make the investment – the UK’s regulatory system isn’t yet ready to support it.

Despite being world leaders in these areas, our carbon pricing system and financial markets don’t yet recognise the value of negative emissions, even though our political institutions and scientists say they are vital to tackling climate change.

There is no government defined business model for BECCS, which will be essential to signalling long term political support as well as operational support.

And despite being the best placed country in the world to develop BECCS, we risk losing out as other countries race to deploy this technology first. Just last week we saw Aker, Microsoft and Orsted sign a memorandum of understanding to develop BECCS in Denmark.

However, in its ten-point plan, the UK government has committed to outline what role biomass and BECCS will play in the UK’s transition to net zero by the end of this year. Soon it will be consulting on a new bioenergy strategy. And it has already taken evidence on Greenhouse Gas Removal technologies and consulted on CCS clusters.

This, we believe, demonstrates that a set of policies could emerge in the coming months that will support investment in BECCS.

At their core, we think these policies should capture the stability and investability of a CfD for the renewable power that we will produce, as well as deliver payment for the negative emissions. By compensating negative emissions with a credit for every ton of CO2 they remove from the environment, the government can properly reward those technologies, and add a critical new set of tools to the fight against climate change – ultimately lower the cost of winning that battle.

This would enable Drax to invest in BECCS, begin delivering negative emissions and helping to decarbonise the North of England as soon as 2027.

With COP26 later this year, making this policy commitment will allow us to accelerate our own decarbonisation journey and support the industries of the future develop here in the UK.

BECCS in context

We know that there is no silver bullet solution to tackling climate change.

Negative emissions technologies such as BECCS will be needed alongside others, for example more renewables, electric vehicles, energy storage, energy efficiency and hydrogen.

Drax employee charging an electric car at Haven Power in Ipswich

Drax employee charging an electric car at Haven Power in Ipswich

BECCS complements – and does not – and should not – substitute for ambitious decarbonisation plans. Technologies such as BECCS have a clear and unique role to play by helping harder to abate sectors such as heavy industry, aviation and agriculture – decarbonise.

This is critically important if we are to meet our legally binding 2050 net zero target. The CCC estimates that 51m tonnes of CO2 will need to be captured via BECCS to meet net zero.

Sustainability at our core

We know that BECCS can only make a meaningful contribution to tackling climate change if the bioenergy is sustainably sourced. This has been fundamental to Drax’s transition from coal to biomass, and it remains fundamental as we progress our plans for BECCS.

Wood residues at Morehouse Bioenergy, Louisiana

Sustainably sourced wood residues at Morehouse Bioenergy pellet plant in Louisiana

Biomass, as the UK Government has stated, is one of our most valuable tools for reaching net zero emissions. So we need the right framework to ensure it is sourced sustainably.

As the world’s largest bioenergy producer and generator, we recognise our responsibility to be the world leaders in sustainability, too.

At Drax, we have invested in world leading policies, tools and expertise to ensure that our biomass is sustainably sourced. We go beyond regulatory compliance and have set up an Independent Advisory Board, Chaired by the UK Government’s former Chief Scientific Advisor, to help us and challenge us on sustainable biomass and its role in Drax’s transition to net zero.

Thanks to our independent catchment area analyses, we know more about the forests we source from than ever before. We know and can demonstrate how demand for biomass can support healthy forests. For example, in the South East US where Drax sources most of its biomass, there is more than double the carbon stored in forests than there was 50 years ago.

Ready to deliver

BECCS will be a critical green technology. And with the right support and policy framework we could be pioneers in making it a reality.

There is no better place to deliver BECCS than at Drax, and no better time to deliver it than now.

At Drax, we stand ready to invest hundreds of millions of pounds to scale up BECCS technology;

To put the UK at the forefront of global efforts to reach net zero emissions;

And to help create tens of thousands of green jobs in the North of England.

Thank you very much for listening.

Will Gardiner delivered this keynote address at the Utility Week Investor Summit

A net zero UK will be good for people and the planet

Peak district walker

For the UK to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and do its part in tackling the biggest challenge of our time, all sectors of the economy must reduce their emissions and do it quickly.

I believe the best approach to tackling climate change is through ‘co-benefit’ solutions: solutions that not only have a positive environmental impact, but that are economically progressive for society today and in the future through training, skills and job creation.

As an energy company, this task is especially important for Drax. We have a responsibility to future generations to innovate and use our engineering skills to deliver power that’s renewable, sustainable and that doesn’t come at a cost to the environment.

Our work on Zero Carbon Humber, in partnership with 11 other forward-thinking organisations, aims to deploy the negative emissions technology BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage), as well as CCUS (carbon capture, usage and storage) in industry and power, and ramp up hydrogen production as a low carbon fuel. These are all essential technologies in bringing the UK to net zero, but they are also innovative projects at scale that can benefit society and the lives of people in the Humber, and around the UK.

New jobs in a new sector

The Humber region has a proud history in heavy industries. What began as a thriving ship building hub has evolved to include chemicals, refining and steel manufacturing. However, these emissions-intensive industries have grown increasingly expensive to operate and many have left for countries where they can be run cheaper, leading to a decline in the Humber region.

If they are not decarbonised, these industries will face an even greater cost. By 2040, emitters could face billions of pounds per year in carbon taxes, making them less competitive and less attractive for international investment.

Deploying carbon capture and hydrogen are essential steps towards modernising these businesses and protecting up to 55,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the region.

Capturing carbon at Drax: Delivering jobs, clean growth and levelling up the Humber. Click to view executive summary and case studies from Vivid Economics report for Drax.

A report by Vivid Economics commissioned by Drax, found that carbon capture and hydrogen in the Humber could create and support almost 48,000 new jobs at the peak of the construction period in 2027 and provide thousands of long term, skilled jobs in the following decades.

As well as protecting people’s livelihoods, decarbonisation is also a matter of public health. In the Humber alone, higher air quality could save £148 million in avoided public health costs between 2040 and 2050.

I believe the UK is well position to rise to the challenge and lead the world in decarbonisation technology. There is a clear opportunity to export knowledge and skills to other countries embarking on their own decarbonisation journeys. BECCS alone could create many more jobs related to exporting the technology and operational know-how and deliver additional value for the economy. As interest in negative emissions grows around the world, the UK needs to move quickly to secure a competitive advantage.

A fairer economy

This is in many ways the start of a new sector in our economy – one that can offer new employment, earnings and economic growth. It comes at just the right time. Without intervention to spur a green recovery, the COVID-19 crisis risks subjecting long-term economic damage.

Being at the beginning of the industrial decarbonisation journey means we also have the power to shape this new industry in a way that spreads the benefits across the whole of the UK.

We’ve previously seen sector deals struck between the government and industry include equality measures. For example, the nuclear industry aims to count women as 40% of its employees by 2030, while offshore wind is committed to sourcing 60% of its supply chain from the UK.

Wind turbines at Bridlington, East Yorkshire

At present, the Humber region receives among the lowest levels of government investment in research and development in the UK, contributing to a pronounced skills gap among the workforce. In addition, almost 60% of construction workers across the wider Yorkshire and Humber region were furloughed as of August 2020.

A project such as Zero Carbon Humber could address this regional imbalance and offer skilled, long term jobs to local communities. That’s why I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of £1bn investment to support the establishment of CCUS in the Humber and other ‘SuperPlaces’ around the UK.

As the Government’s Ten Point Plan says, CCUS can ‘help decarbonise our most challenging sectors, provide low carbon power and a pathway to negative emissions’. 

Healthier forests

The co-benefits of BECCS extend beyond our communities in the UK. We aim to become carbon negative by 2030 by removing our CO2 emissions from the atmosphere and abating emissions that might still exist on the UK’s path to net zero.

Background. Fir tree branch with dew drops on a blurred background of sunlight

This ambition will only be realised if the biomass we use continues to be sourced from sustainable forests that positively benefit the environment and the communities in which we and our suppliers operate.

Engineer working in turbine hall, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

Engineer working in turbine hall, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

I believe we must continuously improve our sustainability policy and seek to update it as new findings come to light. We can help ensure the UK’s biomass sourcing is led by the latest science, best practice and transparency, supporting healthy, biodiverse forests around the world; and even apply it internationally.

Global leadership

Delivering deep decarbonisation for the UK will require collaboration from industries, government and society. What we can achieve through large-scale projects like Zero Carbon Humber is more than just the vital issue of reduced emissions. It is also about creating jobs, protecting health and improving livelihoods.

These are more than just benefits, they are the makings of a future filled with opportunity for the Humber and for the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution.

By implementing the Ten Point Plan and publishing its National Determined Contributions (NDCs) ahead of COP26 in Glasgow next year, the UK continues to be an example to the world on climate action.

5 projects proving carbon capture is a reality

Petra Nova Power Station

The concept of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from power station, refinery and factory exhausts has long been hailed as crucial in mitigating the climate crisis and getting the UK and the rest of the world to net zero. After a number of false starts and policy hurdles, the technology is now growing with more momentum than ever. Carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) is finally coming of age.

Increasing innovation and investment in the space is enabling the development of CCUS schemes at scale. Today, there are over 19 large-scale CCUS facilities in operation worldwide, while a further 32 in development as confidence in government policies and investment frameworks improves.

Once CO2 is captured it can be stored underground in empty oil and gas reservoirs and naturally occurring saline aquifers, in a process known as sequestration. It has also long been used in enhanced oil recovery (EOR), a process where captured CO2 is injected into oil reservoirs to increase oil production.

Drax Power Station is already trialling Europe’s first bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) project. This combination of sustainable biomass with carbon capture technology could remove and capture more than 16 million tonnes of CO2 a year and put Drax Power Station at the centre of wider decarbonisation efforts across the region as part of Zero Carbon Humber.

Here are five other projects making carbon capture a reality today:

Snøhvit & Sleipner Vest 

Who: Sleipner – Equinor Energy, Var Energi, LOTOS, KUFPEC; Snøhvit – Equinor Energy, Petoro, Total, Neptune Energy, Wintershall Dean

Where: Norway

Sleipner Vest Norway

Sleipner Vest offshore carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant, Norway [Click to view/download]

Sleipner Vest was the world’s first ever offshore carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant, and has been active since 1996. The facility separates CO2 from natural gas extracted from the Sleipner field, as well as from at the Utgard field, about 20km away. This method of carbon capture means CO2 is removed before the natural gas is combusted, allowing it to be used as an energy source with lower carbon emissions.

Snøhvit, located offshore in Norway’s northern Barents Sea, operates similarly but here natural gas is pumped to an onshore facility for carbon removal. The separated and compressed CO2 from both facilities is then stored, or sequestered, in empty reservoirs under the sea.

The two projects demonstrate the safety and reality of long-term CO2 sequestration – as of 2019, Sleipner has captured and stored over 23 million tonnes of CO2 while Snøhvit stores 700,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Petra Nova

Who: NRG, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America, Inc. (MHIA) and JX Nippon, a joint venture with Hilcorp Energy 

Where: Texas, USA

In 2016, the largest carbon capture facility in the world began operation at the Petra Nova coal-fired power plant.

Using a solvent developed by Mitsubishi and Kansai Electric Power, called KS-1, the CO2 is absorbed and compressed from the exhausts of the plant after the coal has been combusted. The captured CO2 is then transported and used for EOR 80 miles away on the West Ranch oil field.

Carbon capture facility at the Petra Nova coal-fired power plant, Texas, USA

As of January 2020, over 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 had been captured, reducing the plant’s carbon emissions by 90%. Oil production, on the other hand, increased by 1,300% to 4,000 barrels a day. As well as preventing CO2 from being released into the atmosphere, CCUS has also aided the site’s sustainability by eliminating the need for hydraulic drilling.


Gorgon LNG, Barrow Island, Australia [Click to view/download]

Gorgon LNG

Who: Operated by Chevron, in a joint venture with Shell, Exxon Mobil, Osaka Gas, Tokyo Gas, Jera

Where: Barrow Island, Australia

In 2019 CCS operations began at one of Australia’s largest liquified natural gas production facilities, located off the Western coast. Here, CO2 is removed from natural gas before the gas is cooled to -162oC, turning it into a liquid.

The removed CO2 is then injected via wells into the Dupuy Formation, a saline aquifer 2km underneath Barrow Island.

Once fully operational (estimated to be in 2020), the project aims to reduce the facility’s emissions by about 40% and plans to store between 3.4 and 4 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

Quest

Shell’s Quest carbon capture facility, Alberta, Canada

Who: Operated by Shell, owned by Chevron and Canadian Natural Resources

Where: Alberta, Canada

The Scotford Upgrader facility in Canada’s oil sands uses hydrogen to upgrade bitumen (a substance similar to asphalt) to make a synthetic crude oil.

In 2015, the Quest carbon capture facility was added to Scotford Upgrader to capture the CO2 created as a result of making the site’s hydrogen. Once captured, the CO2 is pressurised and turned into a liquid, which is piped and stored 60km away in the Basal Cambrian Sandstone saline aquifer.

Over its four years of crude oil production, four million tonnes of CO2 have been captured. It is estimated that, over its 25-year life span, this CCS technology could capture and store over 27 million tonnes of CO2.

Chevron estimates that if the facility were to be built today, it would cost 20-30% less, a sign of the falling cost of the technology.

Boundary Dam

Who: SaskPower

Where: Saskatchewan, Canada

Boundary Dam, a coal-fired power station, became the world’s first post-combustion CCS facility in 2014.

The technology uses Shell’s Cansolv solvent to remove CO2 from the exhaust of one of the power station’s 115 MW units. Part of the captured CO2 is used for EOR, while any unused CO2 is stored in the Deadwood Formation, a brine and sandstone reservoir, deep underground.

As of December 2019, more than three million tonnes of CO2 had been captured at Boundary Dam. The continuous improvement and optimisations made at the facility are proving CCS technology at scale and informing CCS projects around the world, including a possible retrofit project at SaskPower‘s 305 MW Shand Power Station.

Top image: Carbon capture facility at the Petra Nova coal-fired power plant, Texas, USA

Learn more about carbon capture, usage and storage in our series:

What is net zero?

Skyscraper vertical forest in Milan

For age-old rivals Glasgow and Edinburgh, the race to the top has taken a sharp turn downwards. Instead, they’re in a race to the bottom to earn the title of the first ‘net zero’ carbon city in the UK.

While they might be battling to be the first in the UK to reach net zero, they are far from the only cities with net zero in their sights. In the wake of the growing climate emergency, cities, companies and countries around the world have all announced their own ambitions for hitting ‘net zero’.

It has become a global focus based on necessity – for the world to hit the Paris Agreement targets and limit global temperature rise to under two degrees Celsius, it’s predicted the world must become net zero by 2070.

Yet despite its ubiquity, net zero is a term that’s not always fully understood. So, what does net zero actually mean?

Glasgow, Scotland. Host of COP26.

What does net zero mean?

‘Going net zero’ most often refers specifically to reaching net zero carbon emissions. But this doesn’t just mean cutting all emissions down to zero.

Instead, net zero describes a state where the greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted [*] and removed by a company, geographic area or facility is in balance.

In practice, this means that as well as making efforts to reduce its emissions, an entity must capture, absorb or offset an equal amount of carbon from the atmosphere to the amount it releases. The result is that the carbon it emits is the same as the amount it removes, so it does not increase carbon levels in the atmosphere. Its carbon contributions are effectively zero – or more specifically, net zero.

The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment likens the net zero target to running a bath – an ideal level of water can be achieved by either turning down the taps (the mechanism adding emissions) or draining some of the water from the bathtub (the thing removing of emissions from the atmosphere). If these two things are equally matched, the water level in the bath doesn’t change.

To reach net zero and drive a sustained effort to combat climate change, a similar overall balance between emissions produced and emissions removed from the atmosphere must be achieved.

But while the analogy of a bath might make it sound simple, actually reaching net zero at the scale necessary will take significant work across industries, countries and governments.

How to achieve net zero

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommends that to reach net zero all industries must be widely decarbonised, heavy good vehicles must switch to low-carbon fuel sources, and a fifth of agricultural land must change to alternative uses that bolster emission reductions, such as biomass production.

However, given the nature of many of these industries (and others considered ‘hard-to-treat’, such as aviation and manufacturing), completely eliminating emissions is often difficult or even impossible. Instead, residual emissions must be counterbalanced by natural or engineered solutions.

Natural solutions can include afforestation (planting new forests) and reforestation (replanting trees in areas that were previous forestland), which use trees’ natural ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere to offset emissions.

On the other hand, engineering solutions such as carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) can capture and permanently store carbon from industry before it’s released into the atmosphere. It is estimated this technology can capture in excess of 90% of the carbon released by fossil fuels during power generation or industrial processes such as cement production.

Negative emissions essential to achieving net zero

Click to view/download graphic. Source: Zero Carbon Humber.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) could actually take this a step further and lead to a net removal of carbon emissions from the atmosphere, often referred to as negative emissions. BECCS combines the use of biomass as a fuel source with CCUS. When that biomass comes from trees grown in responsibly managed working forests that absorb carbon, it becomes a low carbon fuel. When this process is combined with CCUS and the carbon emissions are captured at point of the biomass’ use, the overall process removes more carbon than is released, creating ‘negative emissions’.

According to the Global CCS Institute, BECCS is quickly emerging as the best solution to decarbonise emission-heavy industries. A joint report by The Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society estimates that BECCS could help the UK to capture 50 million tonnes of carbon per year by 2050 – eliminating almost half of the emissions projected to remain in the economy.

The UK’s move to net zero

In June 2019, the UK became the first major global economy to pass a law to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. It is one of a small group of countries, including France and Sweden, that have enacted this ambition into law, forcing the government to take action towards meeting net zero.

Electrical radiator

Although this is an ambitious target, the UK is making steady progress towards it. In 2018 the UK’s emissions were 44% below 1990 levels, while some of the most intensive industries are fast decarbonising – June 2019 saw the carbon content of electricity hit an all-time low, falling below 100 g/kWh for the first time. This is especially important as the shift to net zero will create a much greater demand for electricity as fossil fuel use in transport and home heating must be switched with power from the grid.

Hitting net zero will take more than just this consistent reduction in emissions, however. An increase in capture and removal technologies will also be required. On the whole, the CCC predict an estimated 75 to 175 million tonnes of carbon and equivalent emissions will need to be removed by CCUS solutions annually in 2050 to fully meet the UK’s net zero target.

This will need substantial financial backing. The CCC forecasts that, at present, a net zero target can be reached at an annual resource cost of up to 1-2% of GDP between now and 2050. However, there is still much debate about the role the global carbon markets need to play to facilitate a more cost-effective and efficient way for countries to work together through market mechanisms.

Industries across the UK are starting to take affirmative action to work towards the net zero target. In the energy sector, projects such as Drax Power Station’s carbon capture pilots are turning BECCS increasingly into a reality ready to be deployed at scale.

Along with these individual projects, reaching net zero also requires greater cooperation across the industrial sectors. The Zero Carbon Humber partnership between energy companies, industrial emitters and local organisations, for example, aims to deliver the UK’s first zero carbon industrial cluster in the Humber region by the mid-2020s.

Nonetheless, efforts from all sectors must be made to ensure that the UK stays on course to meet all its immediate and long-term emissions targets. And regardless of whether or not Edinburgh or Glasgow realise their net zero goals first, the competition demonstrates how important the idea of net zero has become and society’s drive for real change across the UK.

Drax has announced an ambition to become carbon negative by 2030 – removing more carbon from the atmosphere than produced in our operations, creating a negative carbon footprint. Track our progress at Towards Carbon Negative.

[*] In this article we’ve simplified our explanation of net zero. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most abundant greenhouse gas (GHG). It is also a long-lived GHG that creates warming that persists in the long term. Although the land and ocean absorb it, a significant proportion stays in the atmosphere for centuries or even millennia causing climate change. It is, therefore, the most important GHG to abate. Other long-lived GHGs include include nitrous oxide (N2O, lifetime of circa 120 years) and some F-Gasses (e.g. SF6 with a lifetime of circa 3,200 years). GHGs are often aggregated as carbon dioxide equivalent (abbreviated as CO2e or CO2eq) and it is this that net zero targets measure. In this article, ‘carbon’ is used for simplicity and as a proxy for ‘carbon dioxide’, ‘CO2‘, ‘GHGs’ or ‘CO2e’.