Tag: decarbonisation

COP26: Will countries with the boldest climate policies reach their targets?

To tackle the climate crisis, global unity and collaboration are needed. This was in part the thinking behind the Paris Agreement. It set a clear, collective target negotiated at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference and signed the following year: to keep the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

In November 2021, COP26 will see many of the countries who first signed the Paris Agreement come together in Glasgow for the first ‘global stocktake’ of their environmental progress since its creation.

COP26 will take place at the SEC in Glasgow

Already delayed for a year as a result of the pandemic, COVID-19 and its effects on emissions is likely to be a key talking point. So too will progress towards not just the Paris Agreement goals but those of individual countries. Known as ‘National Determined Contributions’ (NDCs), these sit under the umbrella of the Paris Agreement goals and set out individual targets for individual countries.

With many countries still reeling from the effects of COVID-19, the question is: which countries are actually on track to meet them?

What are the goals?

The NDCs of each country represent its efforts and goals to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. These incorporate various targets, from decarbonisation and forestry to coastal preservation and financial aims.

While all countries need to reduce emissions to meet the Paris Agreement targets, not all have an equally sized task. The principle of differentiated responsibility acknowledges that countries have varying levels of emissions, capabilities and economic conditions.

The Universal Ecological Fund outlined the emissions breakdown of the top four emitters, showing that combined, they account for 56% of global greenhouse gas emissions. China is the largest emitter, responsible for 26.8%, followed by the US which contributes 13.1%. The European Union and its 28 member states account for nine per cent, while India is responsible for seven per cent of all emissions.

These nations have ambitious emissions goals, but are they on track to meet them?

China

Traffic jams in the rush hour in Shanghai Downtown, contribute to high emissions in China.

By 2030, China pledged to reach peak carbon dioxide (CO2), increase its non-fossil fuel share of energy supply to 20% and reduce the carbon intensity – the ratio between emissions of CO2 to the output of the economy – by 60% to 65% below 2005 levels.

COVID-19 has increased the uncertainty of the course of China’s emissions. Some projections show that emissions are likely to grow in the short term, before peaking and levelling out sometime between 2021 and 2025. However, according to the Climate Action Tracker it is also possible that China’s emissions have already peaked – specifically in 2019. China is expected to meet its non-fossil energy supply and carbon intensity pledges.

United States

The forecast for the second largest emitter, the US, has also been affected by the pandemic. Economic firm Rhodium Group has predicted that the US could see its emissions drop between 20% and 27% by 2025, meeting its target of reducing emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels.

However, President Trump’s rolling back of Obama-era climate policies and regulations, his support of fossil fuels and withdrawal from the Paris Agreement (effective from as early as 4 November 2020), suggest any achievement may not be long-lasting.

The United States’ Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, does not include any direct support to clean energy development – something that could also change in 2021.

European Union

CCUS Incubation Unit, Drax Power Station

Carl Clayton, Head of BECCS at Drax, inspects pipework in the CCUS area of Drax Power Station

The European Union and its member states, then including the UK, pledged to reduce emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 – a target the Climate Action Tracker estimates will be achieved. In fact, the EU is on track to cut emissions by 58% by 2030.

This progress is in part a result of a large package of measures adopted in 2018. These accelerated the emissions reductions, including national coal phase-out plans, increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency. The package also introduced legally binding annual emission limits for each member state within which they can set individual targets to meet the common goal.

The UK has not yet released an updated, independent NDC. However, it has announced a £350 million package designed to cut emissions in heavy industry and drive economic recovery from COVID-19. This includes £139 million earmarked to scale up hydrogen production, as well as carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, such as bioenergy with carbon capture (BECCS) – essential technologies in achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and protecting industrial regions.

India

India, the fourth largest global emitter, is set to meet its pledge to reduce its emissions intensity by 33% to 35% below 2005 levels and increase the non-fossil share of power generation to 40% by 2030. What’s more, the Central Electricity Agency has reported that 64% of India’s power could come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

Wind turbines in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India

Along with increasingly renewable generation, the implementation of India’s National Smart Grid Mission aims to modernise and improve the efficiency of the country’s energy system.

It is promising that the world’s four largest emitters have plans in place and are making progress towards their decarbonisation goals. However, tackling climate change requires action from around the entire globe. In addition to NDCs, many countries have committed to, or have submitted statements of intent, to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the coming years.

Net zero target

CountryTarget Date Status
Bhutan 🇧🇹Currently carbon negative (and aiming for carbon neutrality as it develops; pledged towards the Paris Agreement)
Suriname 🇸🇷Currently carbon negative
Denmark 🇩🇰2050In law
France 🇫🇷2050In law
Germany 🇩🇪2050In law
Hungary 🇭🇺2050In law
New Zealand 🇳🇿2050In law
Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿2045In law
Sweden 🇸🇪2045In law
United Kingdom 🇬🇧2050In law
Bulgaria 🇧🇬2050Policy Position
Canada 🇨🇦2050Policy Position
Chile 🇨🇱2050In policy
China 🇨🇳2060Statement of intent
Costa Rica 🇨🇷2050Submitted to the UN
EU 🇪🇺2050Submitted to the UN
Fiji 🇫🇯2050Submitted to the UN
Finland 🇫🇮2035Coalition agreement
Iceland 🇮🇸2040Policy Position
Ireland 🇮🇪2050Coalition Agreement
Japan 🇯🇵2050Policy Position
Marshall Islands 🇲🇭2050Pledged towards the Paris Agreement
Netherlands 🇳🇱2050Policy Position
Norway 🇳🇴2050 in law, 2030 signal of intent
Portugal 🇵🇹2050Policy Position
Singapore 🇸🇬As soon as viable in the second half of the centurySubmitted to the UN
Slovakia 🇸🇰2050Policy Position
South Africa 🇿🇦2050Policy Position
South Korea 🇰🇷2050Policy Position
Spain 🇪🇸2050Draft Law
Switzerland 🇨🇭2050Policy Position
Uruguay 🇺🇾2030Contribution to the Paris Agreement

While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted short-term plans, many see it as an opportunity to rejuvenate economies with sustainability in mind. COP26, as well as the global climate summit planned for December of this year, will likely see many countries lay out decarbonisation goals that benefit both people’s lives and the planet.

Building back better by supporting negative emissions technologies

CCUS Incubation Unit, Drax Power Station
Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
Rt Hon George Eustice MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport
Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Dear Chancellor, Secretaries of State,

Building back better by supporting negative emissions technologies

Today our organisations have launched a new coalition with a shared vision: to build back better as part of a sustainable and resilient recovery from Covid-19, by developing pioneering projects that can remove carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants from the atmosphere. Together, we represent hundreds of thousands of workers across some of the UK’s most critical industries, including aviation, energy and farming, each of which contribute billions of pounds each year to the economy.

A growing number of independent experts, including the Committee on Climate Change, Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering and the Electricity System Operator, have recognised the crucial role of ‘negative emissions’ or ‘greenhouse gas removal’ technologies in fighting the climate crisis. Whilst we should seek to decarbonise sectors such as aviation, heavy industry and agriculture as far as practically possible, due to technical or commercial barriers it is unlikely we will eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions completely. Negative emissions technologies are critical therefore to balancing out these residual emissions and ensuring we achieve Net Zero in a credible, cost effective and sustainable way.

As well as benefiting the environment, negative emissions technologies and projects can build back a cleaner, greener economy in the wake of Covid-19. The foundations for this are already being laid by our coalition’s members today.

For example:

  • The National Farmers Union has set out a Net Zero vision for the agricultural sector whereby UK farmers harness the ability to capture carbon to create new income streams.
  • The aviation industry through the Sustainable Aviation initiative has identified negative emissions projects, alongside other measures as sustainable jet fuel, as being crucial to greening the industry.
  • In North Yorkshire, Drax is developing plans to combine sustainable biomass with carbon capture technology (BECCS) to create the world’s first carbon negative power station – supporting thousands of jobs in the process.
  • In North East Lincolnshire, Velocys with the support of British Airways is developing the Altalto waste-to-jet fuel project that could produce negative-emission jet fuel once the Humber industrial cluster’s carbon capture and storage infrastructure is established.
  • Finally, Carbon Engineering has announced a partnership with Pale Blue Dot Energy to deploy commercial-scale Direct Air Capture projects in the UK that would remove significant volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

With COP26 fast approaching, there is a real and compelling opportunity for the UK Government to demonstrate to the world it is taking a leadership position on negative emissions. Conversely if the UK does not act quickly, it could jeopardise the delivery of projects in the 2020s that can support innovation, learning by doing and the scale-up of negative emissions in the 2030s. It also risks Britain falling behind in the race to scale and commercialise these technologies, with a view to exporting them to other countries around the world to support their own decarbonisation efforts.

We therefore call on this Government, supported by your departments, to pursue the following ‘low regrets’ interventions to support this critical emerging industry:

  1. Adopt a clear, unambiguous commitment to supporting negative emissions in the 2020s and beyond. The last significant reference to negative emissions by Government was in the 2017 Clean Growth Strategy. Between now and the end of the year there is a window of opportunity for the Government to go further, reflecting the changed reality of a Net Zero world and the growing consensus on the need for negative emissions. A clear signal of intent would also give greater confidence to investors and developers in negative emissions projects, in the absence of a long-term strategy.
  2. Develop targeted policies to support viable negative emissions projects in the 2020s. In order to scale up in the 2030s at a pace compatible with the UK’s climate commitments, it is essential that Government works with industry to bring forward early projects in the 2020s that are viable and represent value for money. However, there is no marketplace or regulatory regime in the UK today that incentivises or rewards negative emissions, making financing projects extremely challenging. Dedicated policy frameworks and business models for solutions such as afforestation, BECCS and Direct Air Capture are therefore urgently needed.
  3. Seize the opportunity to make negative emissions a point of emphasis at COP26. The UK has already led the way at a global level by adopting Net Zero as a legally binding target. At COP26, the UK can showcase its further commitment to continuous innovation around the decarbonisation agenda by signposting the early actions it has taken to deploy negative emissions – which other countries will also need to meet their own zero carbon ambitions. This statement would be particularly powerful as it can be credibly supported by several pioneering projects already being undertaken by British businesses and research organisations in this space.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with each of you to discuss these points in further detail.

Yours,

The Coalition for Negative Emissions

carbon engineering logo carbon removal centre cbi logo
CCSA logo climeworks logo drax logo
energy uk logo heathrow logo iag logo
nfu logo velocys logo

View/download the letter as a PDF

What is carbon dioxide?

What is CO2?

Carbon dioxide (or CO2) is a colourless and odourless naturally occurring gas in the earth’s atmosphere which is made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms.  As a greenhouse gas (GHG), it traps heat, making sure the planet isn’t uninhabitably cold. However, fast rising levels of CO2 and other long-lasting GHGs in the atmosphere are currently causing global warming to occur at an alarmingly rapid rate.

What is the carbon cycle?

Carbon is the basis of all life on earth – it is a key ingredient in almost everything on the planet. As the earth has a closed atmosphere, there has always been the same amount of carbon on the earth, but it is in a constant state of change, transitioning from gas to solid to liquid and moving between the atmosphere and the earth. This process is called the carbon cycle, and it is key to ensuring the earth is capable of sustaining life. CO2 forms one part of this process and makes up the largest available source of carbon on earth.

How is CO2 made?

Carbon is stored in oceans, soil, and living things and is released from this storage into the atmosphere in the form of CO2. CO2 is created when one carbon atom meets two oxygen atoms, which join together through a number of processes, including the decay of organic matter, the combustion of materials such as wood, coal and natural gas, through the breathing of humans and animals, and from events such as volcanic eruptions.

How does CO2 affect the planet?

An abundance of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere means more heat gets trapped, which in turn contributes to a rise in global temperatures and climate change. This acceleration in carbon entering the atmosphere began during the Industrial Revolution around the 1800s, when fossil fuels were mined and burned to create energy, which released long-stored carbon into the atmosphere in the form of CO2.

From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution until today, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere has increased from 280 parts per million, to 387 parts per million, which constitutes a 39% increase. Today, CO2 levels are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years.

CO2 is created when one carbon atom meets two oxygen atoms, which join together when organic materials containing carbon are burned: wood, coal, and natural gas.

How can countries reduce CO2 in the atmosphere?

According to the Paris Climate Agreement, nations must work to limit warming of the globe to be well under two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In the first half of 2015, the earth registered a one degree Celsius rise in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels, which means drastic and meaningful action must be taken to decarbonise within the next few years.

There are many ways to reduce the earth’s carbon footprint, including reforestation and using alternative ways to generate energy that don’t rely on fossil fuels. For example, wind, solar, biomass and hydro can all provide sustainable, carbon-neutral and low carbon sources of electricity.

Technology such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) can capture carbon permanently storing CO2 from industries in which some CO2 emissions remain. By combining CCUS with biomass energy (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS) it is even possible to generate negative emissions, where more CO2 is removed from the atmosphere than is emitted.

CO2 fast facts

  • In the 1960s, the growth of CO2 occurred at 0.6 parts per million per year. In the last 10 years, the rate has been 2.3 parts per million per year
  • The average human breathes out 93 kilograms of CO2 per year – however, our breathing only contributes 0.65 billion tonnes of carbon returned to the atmosphere, which is 0.01% of the amount released by fossil fuels each year
  • Trees absorb CO2 in the atmosphere and release it in the form of oxygen, making them vitally important in the world’s fight against climate change. In the US alone, forests absorb 13% of the nation’s carbon output

There are many ways to reduce the earth’s carbon footprint, including using alternative ways to generate power.

Go deeper

 

How to count carbon emissions

Reduced demand, boosted renewables, and the near-total abandonment of coal pushed last quarter’s carbon emissions from electricity generation below 10 million tonnes.

Emissions are at their lowest in modern times, having fallen by three-quarters compared to the same period ten years ago.  The average carbon emissions fell to a new low of 153 grams per kWh of electricity consumed over the quarter.

The carbon intensity also plummeted to a new low of just 18 g/kWh in the middle of the Spring Bank Holiday.  Clear skies with a strong breeze meant wind and solar power dominated the generation mix.

Together, nuclear and renewables produced 90% of Britain’s electricity, leaving just 2.8 GW to come from fossil fuels.

The generation mix over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, highlighting the mix on the Sunday afternoon with the lowest carbon intensity on record

National Grid and other grid-monitoring websites reported the carbon intensity as being 46 g/kWh at that time.  That was still a record low, but very different from the Electric Insights numbers.  So why the discrepancy?

These sites report the carbon intensity of electricity generation, as opposed to consumption.  Not all the electricity we consume is generated in Britain, and not all the electricity generated in Britain is consumed here.

Should the emissions from power stations in the Netherlands ‘count’ towards our carbon footprint, if they are generating power consumed in our homes?  Earth’s atmosphere would say yes, as unlike air pollutants which affect our cities, CO2 has the same effect on global warming regardless of where it is produced.

On that Bank Holiday afternoon, Britain was importing 2 GW of electricity from France and Belgium, which are mostly powered by low-carbon nuclear.  We were exporting three-quarters of this (1.5 GW) to the Netherlands and Ireland.  While they do have sizeable shares of renewables, they also rely on coal power.

Britain’s exports prevented more fossil fuels from being burnt, whereas the imports did not as they came predominantly from clean sources.  So, the average unit of electricity we were consuming at that point in time was cleaner than the proportion of it that was generated within our borders.  We estimate that 1190 tonnes of CO2 were produced here, 165 were emitted in producing our imports, and 730 avoided through our exports.

In the long-term it does not particularly matter which of these measures gets used, as the mix of imports and exports gets averaged out.  Over the whole quarter, carbon emissions would be 153g/kWh with our measure, or 151 g/kWh with production-based accounting.  But, it does matter on the hourly timescale, consumption based accounting swings more widely.

Imports and exports helped make the electricity we consume lower carbon on the 24th, but the very next day they increased our carbon intensity from 176 to 196 g/kWh.

When renewable output is high in Britain we typically export the excess to our neighbours as they are willing to pay more for it, and this helps to clean their power systems.  When renewables are low, Britain will import if power from Ireland and the continent is lower cost, but it may well be higher carbon.

Two measures for the carbon intensity of British electricity over the Bank Holiday weekend and surrounding days

This speaks to the wider question of decarbonising the whole economy.

Should we use production or consumption based accounting?  With production (by far the most common measure), the UK is doing very well, and overall emissions are down 32% so far this century.  With consumption-based accounting it’s a very different story, and they’re only down 13%*.

This is because we import more from abroad, everything from manufactured goods to food, to data when streaming music and films online.

Either option would allow us to claim we are zero carbon through accounting conventions.  On the one hand (production-based accounting), Britain could be producing 100% clean power, but relying on dirty imports to meet its entire demand – that should not be classed as zero carbon as it’s pushing the problem elsewhere.  On the other hand (consumption-based accounting), it would be possible to get to zero carbon emissions from electricity consumed even with unabated gas power stations running.  If we got to 96% low carbon (1300 MW of gas running), we would be down at 25 g/kWh.  Then if we imported fully from France and sent it to the Netherlands and Ireland, we’d get down to 0 g/kWh.

Regardless of how you measure carbon intensity, it is important to recognise that Britain’s electricity is cleaner than ever.

The hard task ahead is to make these times the norm rather than the exception, by continuing to expand renewable generation, preparing the grid for their integration, and introducing negative emissions technologies such as BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage).


Read full Report (PDF)   |  Read full Report   |   Read press release


Front cover of Drax Electric Insights Q2 2020 report

Electric Insights Q2 2020 report [click to view/download]

Could hydrogen power stations offer flexible electricity for a net zero future?

Pipework in a chemical factory

We’re familiar with using natural gas every day in heating homes, powering boilers and igniting stove tops. But this same natural gas – predominantly methane – is also one of the most important sources of electricity to the UK. In 2019 gas generation accounted for 39% of Great Britain’s electricity mix. But that could soon be changing.

Hydrogen, the super simple, super light element, can be a zero-carbon emissions source of fuel. While we’re used to seeing it in everyday in water (H2O), as a gas it has been tested as an alternative to methane in homes and as a fuel for vehicles.

Could it also replace natural gas in power stations and help keep the lights on?

The need for a new gas

Car arriving at hydrogen gas station

Hydrogen fuel station

Natural gas has been the largest single source of electricity in Great Britain since around 2000 (aside from the period 2012-14 when coal made a resurgence due to high gas prices). The dominance of gas over coal is in part thanks to the abundant supply of it in the North Sea. Along with carbon pricing, domestic supply makes gas much cheaper than coal, and much cleaner, emitting as much as 60% less CO2 than the solid fossil fuel.

Added to this is the ability of gas power stations to start up, change their output and shut down very quickly to meet sudden shifts in electricity demand. This flexibility is helpful to support the growth of weather-dependant renewable sources of power such as wind or solar. The stability gas brings has helped the country decarbonise its power supply rapidly.

Hydrogen, on the other hand, can be an even cleaner fuel as it only releases water vapour and nitrous oxide when combusted in large gas turbines. This means it could offer a low- or zero-carbon, flexible alternative to natural gas that makes use of Great Britain’s existing gas infrastructure. But it’s not as simple as just switching fuels.

Switching gases

Some thermal power stations work by combusting a fuel, such as biomass or coal, in a boiler to generate intense heat that turns water into high-pressure steam which then spins a turbine. Gas turbines, however, are different.

Engineer works on a turbine at Drax Power Station

Instead of heating water into steam, a simple gas turbine blasts a mix of gas, plus air from the surrounding atmosphere, at high pressure into a combustion chamber, where a chemical reaction takes place – oxygen from the air continuously feeding a gas-powered flame. The high-pressure and hot gasses then spin a turbine. The reaction that takes place inside the combustion chamber is dependent on the chemical mix that enters it.

“Natural gas turbines have been tailored and optimised for their working conditions,” explains Richard Armstrong, Drax Lead Engineer.

“Hydrogen is a gas that burns in the same way as natural gas, but it burns at different temperatures, at different speeds and it requires different ratios of oxygen to get the most efficient combustion.”

Switching a power station from natural gas to hydrogen would take significant testing and refining to optimise every aspect of the process and ensure everything is safe. This would no doubt continue over years, subtly developing the engines over time to improve efficiency in a similar way to how natural gas combustion has evolved. But it’s certainly possible.

What may be trickier though is providing the supply of hydrogen necessary to power and balance the country’s electricity system. 

Making hydrogen

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. But it’s very rare to find it on its own. Because it’s so atomically simple, it’s highly reactive and almost always found naturally bonded to other elements.

Water is the prime example: it’s made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, making it H2O. Hydrogen’s tendency to bond with everything means a pure stream of it, as would be needed in a power station, has to be produced rather than extracted from underground like natural gas.

Hydrogen as a gas at standard temperature and pressure is known by the symbol H2.

A power station would also need a lot more hydrogen than natural gas. By volume it would take three times as much hydrogen to produce the same amount of energy as would be needed with natural gas. However, because it is so light the hydrogen would still have a lower mass.

“A very large supply of hydrogen would be needed, which doesn’t exist in the UK at the moment,” says Rachel Grima, Research & Innovation Engineer at Drax. “So, at the same time as converting a power plant to hydrogen, you’d need to build a facility to produce it alongside it.”

One of the most established ways to produce hydrogen is through a process known as steam methane reforming. This applies high temperatures and pressure to natural gas to break down the methane (which makes up the majority of natural gas) into hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2).

The obvious problem with the process is it still emits CO2, meaning carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems are needed if it is to be carbon neutral.

“It’s almost like capturing the CO2 from natural gas before its combusted, rather than post-combustion,” explains Grima. “One of the advantages of this is that the CO2 is at a much higher concentration, which makes it much easier to capture than in flue gas when it is diluted with a lot of nitrogen.”

Using natural gas in the process produces what’s known as ‘grey hydrogen’, adding carbon capture to make the process carbon neutral is known as ‘blue hydrogen’ – but there are ways to make it with renewable energy sources too.

Electrolysis is already an established technology, where an electrical current is used to break water down into hydrogen and oxygen. This ‘green hydrogen’ cuts out the CO2 emissions that come from using natural gas. However, like charging an electric vehicle, the process is only carbon-neutral if the electricity powering it comes from zero carbon sources, such as nuclear, wind and solar.

It’s also possible to produce hydrogen from biomass. By putting biomass under high temperatures and adding a limited amount of oxygen (to prevent the biomass combusting) the biomass can be gasified, meaning it is turned into a mix of hydrogen and CO2. By using a sustainable biomass supply chain where forests absorb the equivalent of the CO2 emitted but where some fossil fuels are used within the supply chain, the process becomes low carbon.

Carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) Incubation Area, Drax Power Station

Carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) Incubation Area, Drax Power Station

CCS can then be added to make it carbon negative overall, meaning more CO2 is captured and stored at forest level and in below-ground carbon storage than is emitted throughout its lifecycle. This form of ‘green hydrogen’ is known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) hydrogen or negative emissions hydrogen.

There are plenty of options for making hydrogen, but doing it at the scale needed for power generation and ensuring it’s an affordable fuel is the real challenge. Then there is the issue of transporting and working with hydrogen.

“The difficulty is less in converting the UK’s gas power stations and turbines themselves. That’s a hurdle but most turbine manufacturers already in the process of developing solutions for this,” says Armstrong.

“The challenge is establishing a stable and consistent supply of hydrogen and the transmission network to get it to site.”

Working with the lightest known element

Today hydrogen is mainly transported by truck as either a gas or cooled down to minus-253 degrees Celsius, at which point it becomes a liquid (LH2). However, there is plenty of infrastructure already in place around the UK that could make transporting hydrogen significantly more efficient.

“The UK has a very advanced and comprehensive gas grid. A conversion to hydrogen would be more economic if you could repurpose the existing gas infrastructure,” says Hannah Steedman, Innovation Engineer at Drax.

“The most feasible way to feed a power station is through pipelines and a lot of work is underway to determine if the current natural gas network could be used for hydrogen.”

Gas stove

Hydrogen is different to natural gas in that it is a very small and highly reactive molecule,  therefore it needs to be treated differently. For example, parts of the existing gas network are made of steel, a metal which hydrogen reacts with, causing what’s known as hydrogen embrittlement, which can lead to cracks and failures that could potentially allow gas to escape. There are also factors around safety and efficiency to consider.

Like natural gas, hydrogen is also odourless, meaning it would need to have an odourant added to it. Experimentation is underway to find out if mercaptan, the odourant added to natural gas to give it a sulphuric smell, is also compatible with hydrogen.

But for all the challenges that might come with switching to hydrogen, there are huge advantages.

The UK’s gas network – both power generation and domestic – must move away from fossil fuels if it is to stop emitting CO2 into the atmosphere, and for the country to reach net zero by 2050. While the process will not be as simple as switching gases, it creates an opportunity to upgrade the UK’s gas infrastructure – for power, in homes and even as a vehicle fuel.

It won’t happen overnight, but hydrogen is a proven energy fuel source. While it may take time to ramp up production to a scale which can meet demand, at a reasonable cost, transitioning to hydrogen is a chance to future-proof the gas systems that contributes so heavily to the UK’s stable power system.

What are negative emissions?

Negative emissions

What are negative emissions?

In order to meet the long-term climate goals laid out in the Paris Agreement, there is a need to not only reduce the emission of harmful greenhouse gases into the air, but actively work to remove the excess carbon dioxide (CO2) currently in the atmosphere, and the CO2 that will continue to be emitted as economies work to decarbonise.

The process of greenhouse gas removal (GGR) or CO2 removal (CDR) from the atmosphere is possible through negative emissions, where more CO2 is taken out than is being put into the atmosphere. Negative emissions can be achieved through a range of nature-based solutions or through man-made technologies designed to remove CO2 at scale.

What nature-based solutions exist to remove CO2 from the atmosphere?

One millennia-old way of achieving negative emissions is forests. Trees absorb carbon when they grow, either converting this to energy and releasing oxygen, or storing it over their lifetime. This makes forests important tools in limiting and potentially reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Planting new forests and regenerating forests has a positive effect on the health of the world as a result.

However, this can also go beyond forests on land. Vegetation underwater has the ability to absorb and store CO2, and seagrasses can in fact store up to twice as much carbon as forests on land – an approach to negative emissions called ‘blue carbon’.

Key negative emissions facts

 

Did you know?

Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world – its thick forests absorb three times the amount of CO2 the small country emits.

What man-made technologies can deliver negative emissions?

Many scientists and experts agree one of the most promising technologies to achieve negative emissions is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This approach uses biomass – sourced from sustainably managed forests – to generate electricity. As the forests used to create biomass absorb CO2 while growing, the CO2 released when it is used as fuel is already accounted for, making the whole process low carbon.

By then capturing and storing any CO2 emitted (often in safe underground deposits), the process of electricity generation becomes carbon negative, as more carbon has been removed from the atmosphere than has been added.

Direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS) is an alternative technological solution in which CO2 is captured directly from the air and then transported to be stored or used. While this could hold huge potential, the technology is currently in its infancy, and requires substantial investment to make it a more widespread practice.

The process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere is known as negative emissions, because more CO2 is being taken out of the atmosphere than added into it.

How much negative emissions are needed?

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, negative emissions technologies could be required to capture 20 billion tonnes of carbon annually to help prevent catastrophic changes in the climate between now and 2050.

Negative emissions fast facts

Go deeper

What is carbon capture usage and storage?

Carbon capture

What is carbon capture usage and storage?

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the process of trapping or collecting carbon emissions from a large-scale source – for example, a power station or factory – and then permanently storing them.

Carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) is where captured carbon dioxide (CO2) may be used, rather than stored, in other industrial processes or even in the manufacture of consumer products.

How is carbon captured?

Carbon can be captured either pre-combustion, where it is removed from fuels that emit carbon before the fuel is used, or post-combustion, where carbon is captured directly from the gases emitted once a fuel is burned.

Pre-combustion carbon capture involves solid fossil fuels being converted into a mixture of hydrogen and carbon dioxide under heat pressure. The separated CO2 is

captured and transported to be stored or used.

Post-combustion carbon capture uses the addition of other materials (such as solvents) to separate the carbon from flue gases produced as a result of the fuel being burned. The isolated carbon is then transported (normally via pipeline) to be stored permanently –  usually deep underground – or used for other purposes.

Carbon capture and storage traps and removes carbon dioxide from large sources and most of that CO2 is not released into the atmosphere.

 What can the carbon be used for?

Once carbon is captured it can be stored permanently or used in a variety of different ways. For example, material including carbon nanofibres and bioplastics can be produced from captured carbon and used in products such as airplanes and bicycles, while several start-ups are developing methods of turning captured CO2 into animal feed.

Captured carbon can even assist in the large-scale production of hydrogen, which could be used as a carbon-neutral source of transport fuel or as an alternative to natural gas in power generation.

Key carbon capture facts

Where can carbon be stored?

Carbon can be stored in geological reserves, commonly naturally occurring underground rock formations such as unused natural gas reservoirs, saline aquifers, or ‘unmineable’ coal beds. The process of storage is referred to as sequestration.

The underground storage process means that the carbon can integrate into the earth through mineral storage, where the gas chemically reacts with the minerals in the rock formations and forms new, solid minerals that ensure it is permanently and safely stored.

Carbon injected into a saline aquifer dissolves into the water and descends to the bottom of the aquifer in a process called dissolution storage.

According to the Global CCS Institute, over 25 million tonnes of carbon captured from the power and industrial sectors was successfully and permanently stored in 2019 across sites in the USA, Norway and Brazil. 

What are the benefits of carbon storage?

CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which traps heat in our atmosphere, and therefore contributes to global warming. By capturing and storing carbon, it is being taken out of the atmosphere, which reduces greenhouse gas levels and helps mitigate the effects of climate change.

Carbon capture fast facts

  • CCUS is an affordable way to lower CO2 emissions – fighting climate change would cost 70% more without carbon capture technologies
  • The largest carbon capture facility in the world is the Petra Nova plant in Texas, which has captured a total of 5 million tonnes of CO2, since opening in 2016
  • Drax Power Station is trialling Europe’s biggest bioenergy carbon capture usage and storage project (BECCS), which could remove and capture more than 16 million tonnes of CO2 a year by the mid 2030s, delivering a huge amount of the negative emissions the UK needs to meet net zero

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What is climate change?

Climate change

What is climate change?

Climate change refers to the change in weather patterns and global temperature of the earth over long periods of time. In a modern context, climate change describes the rise of global temperatures that has been occurring since the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.

What causes climate change?

While there have been natural fluctuations in the earth’s climate over previous millennia, scientists have found that current-day temperatures are rising quicker than ever due to the excessive amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere.

Key climate crisis facts

An excess of CO2 in the atmosphere accentuates something called the ‘greenhouse effect’. As CO2 traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere, it warms the planet and causes a rise in average global temperature. International efforts, such as the Paris Climate Accords, are dedicated to ensuring temperatures do not rise 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which could lead to catastrophic conditions on the planet.

In the modern context, climate change describes the rise of global temperatures occurring since the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.

How do humans contribute to climate change?  

Industries such as transport, agriculture, energy and manufacturing have traditionally relied on the use of coal, oil and other fossil fuels. These fuels, when combusted or used, emit large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, further advancing the greenhouse effect and contributing to climate change.

Human reliance and consumption of these products mean today CO2 levels are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years.

Why are rising temperatures harmful to the planet?

Our planet has a history of experiencing periods of extreme weather conditions – for example the last Ice Age, which finished 12,000 years ago. However, the rapid rise in temperatures seen today is harmful because a hotter planet completely affects our natural environment.

A steep rise in global temperature can melt ice sheets and cause higher sea levels which can, in turn, contribute to more extreme storms and even threaten entire islands and coastal communities. As the planet warms, extreme weather events, such as bushfires could become more common, which can destroy homes, impact agriculture and degrade air quality, while entire ecosystems, habitats and animal and insect species could also be threatened by climate change. 

What can be done to mitigate the effects of climate change?

Reducing CO2 emissions is a key way of slowing down the pace of climate change. To do so, industries across the global economy must decarbonise to become less dependent on fossil fuels, such as coal and petrol, and adopt new lower carbon energy sources.

Decarbonisation will rely on a number of factors, including a technological response that sees the development and implementation of carbon neutral and carbon negative ways of creating heat, electricity and fuels, including the use of innovations such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).

There is also a need for a policy and governmental response that promotes investment in new cleaner technologies and disincentivises dirtier industries through mechanisms like the carbon tax. Countries and economies will need to work collaboratively to achieve common, climate-oriented goals that will also enable smaller scale action to be taken by individuals around the world. 

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