Tag: technology

Carbon markets will be essential in reaching net zero – we must ensure they support high standards

Angela Hepworth, Commercial Director, Drax

In brief:

  • The voluntary carbon market will be essential in deploying engineered carbon removals technologies like Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACS) at scale.
  • The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market is developing a set of Core Carbon Principles (CCPs).
  • Drax support proposed principals if they’re applied in ways appropriate for engineered carbon removals.
  • Standards around additionality and the permeance of carbon removals may apply very differently to nature-based and engineered removals, something that needs to be addressed explicitly.

There’s growing recognition, in governments and environmental organisations, of the urgent need to develop high-integrity engineered carbon removals at scale if the world has any chance of meeting our collective Paris-aligned climate goals.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACS) are two technologies on the cusp of deployment at scale that can remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it permanently and safely. The technology is proven, developers are bringing forward projects, and the most forward-thinking companies are actively seeking to buy removal credits from BECCS and DACS developers.

Yet there’s a risk that the frameworks being developed in the voluntary carbon market could stifle rather than support the development of engineered carbon removals.

Drax is a world-leader in the deployment of bioenergy solutions. Our goal is to produce 12 million tonnes of high-integrity, permanent CO2 removals by 2030 from its BECCS projects in the U.K. and the U.S. We support the development of rigorous standards for CO2 removals that give purchasers confidence in the integrity of the CO2 removals they’re buying. Such standards are also important in providing a clear framework for project developers to work to.

However, the market and its standards have largely developed around carbon reduction and avoidance credits, rather than removals. To create a market that can enable engineered carbon removals at scale, re-thinking is needed to create standards that are fit for purpose to tackle the climate emergency.

Core Carbon Principles

The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market is in the process of developing a set of Core Carbon Principles (CCPs) and Assessment Framework (AF) intended to set new threshold standards for high-quality carbon credits.

At Drax, we welcome and support the principals proposed by the Integrity Council. However, it’s crucial they’re applied in ways that are appropriate for engineered carbon removals, and support rather than prevent their development.

Many CCPs are directly applicable to engineered carbon removals and can offer important standards for projects developing removals technologies. Among the most important principals include those stating:

  • Removals must be robustly quantified, with appropriate conservatism in any assumptions made.
  • Key information must be provided in the public domain to enable appropriate scrutiny of the carbon removal activity, while safeguarding commercially sensitive information.
  • Removal credits should be subject to robust, independent third-party validation and verification.
  • Credits should be held in a registry which deals appropriately with removal credits.
  • Registries must be subject to appropriate governance, to ensure their integrity without becoming disproportionately bureaucratic or burdensome.
  • Removals must adhere to high standards of sustainability, taking account of impacts on nature, the climate and society.
  • There should be no double counting of carbon removals between corporates, or between countries. Bearing in mind that both corporates and countries may count the same removals in parallel, and that the Article 6 mechanism means countries can decide whether trades between corporates should or shouldn’t trigger corresponding adjustments to countries’ carbon inventories.

However, as pioneers in the field, we believe that two of the Core Carbon Principles need to be adapted to the specific characteristics of engineered carbon removals.

Supporting additionality and development incentives

The CCPs state: “The greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions or removals from the mitigation activity shall be additional, i.e., they would not have occurred in the absence of the incentive created by carbon credit revenues.”

Engineered carbon removal credits such as BECCS and DACS are by their nature additional. They are developed for the specific purpose of removing CO2 from the atmosphere and putting it back in the geosphere. They also rely on revenue from carbon markets – largely the voluntary market at present, but potentially compliance markets such as the U.K. and E.U. ETS in the future.

However, most early projects are likely to have some form of Government support (e.g., 45Q in the U.S., or Contracts for Difference in the U.K.) from outside carbon credit revenues. But that support isn’t intended to be sufficient on its own for their deployment – project developers will be expected to sell credits in compliance or voluntary markets.

Engineered carbon removals have high up-front capital costs, and it’s clear that revenue from voluntary or compliance markets will be essential to make them viable.

Additionality assessments should be risk-based. If it’s clear that a technology-type is additional, a technology-level assessment should be sufficient. This should be supplemented with full transparency on any government support provided to projects.

Compensating against non-permanent storage

On the topic of permeance that CCPs state: “The GHG emission reductions or removals from the mitigation activity shall be permanent, or if they have a risk of reversal, any reversals shall be fully compensated.”  A key benefit of engineered carbon removals with geological storage is that they effectively provide permanent carbon removal. Any risk of reversal over tens of thousands of years is extremely small.

The risk of reversal for nature-based credits, by contrast, is much greater. Schemes for managing reversal risk in the voluntary carbon market that have been developed for nature-based credits, are not necessarily appropriate for engineered removals.

Requirements for project developers to set aside a significant proportion of credits generated in a buffer pool, potentially as much as 10%, are disproportionate to the real risk of reversal from a well-manged geological store. They also fail to take account of the stringent regulatory requirements for geological storage that already exist or are being put in place.

Any ongoing requirements for monitoring should be consistent with existing regulatory requirements placed on storage owners and operators. Similarly, where jurisdictions have robust regulatory arrangements for dealing with CO2 storage risk, which place liabilities on storage owners, operators, or governments, the arrangements in the voluntary carbon market should mirror these arrangements rather than cutting across them, and no additional liabilities should be put on project developers.

At Drax, we believe the CCPs provide a suitable framework to ensure the integrity of engineered carbon removals. If applied pragmatically, they can give purchasers of engineered carbon removal credits confidence in the integrity of the product they’re buying and provide a clear framework for project developers. They can ensure that standards support, rather than stifle the development of high integrity carbon removal projects such as BECCS and DACS, which are essential to achieving our global climate goals.

Carbon removals is a global need. The U.S. is making it possible

Key takeaways:

  • Removing carbon from the atmosphere is urgent if we are to meet global climate targets
  • The U.S.’s commitment to supporting carbon removal technologies creates an opportunity for new bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) power stations
  • The market for carbon credits is gaining increasing credibility and verification, making it a source of financing for ambitious decarbonization projects
  • Carbon markets are needed now to make investment into vital removals projects possible in the U.S. and globally

    After a summer of soaring temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere, the global nature of climate change is more obvious than ever. Forest fires around the world in 2021 resulted in double the loss of tree cover than in 2001, while today more than 2.3 billion people face water stress from drought. It’s clear that the action we take to help tackle the global climate emergency must be international too.

    We believe that carbon dioxide (CO2) removals will be crucial in addressing this global challenge. Experts and governments agree that in addition to economy-wide decarbonization, removing carbon from the atmosphere is critical to meeting the goal of net zero CO2 emissions by mid-century. The IPCC says 10 billion tons per year of removals will be needed in 2050 for the world to get to net zero. That’s a huge step up from the 40 million tons captured globally in 2021, but also a significant investment opportunity.

    Our ambition is to remove 4 million tons of CO2 through bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) outside the UK per year, while generating renewable, baseload electricity and supporting healthy, sustainable forests.

    The likely contender for our first location? The United States. We already operate in communities across the U.S. South, employing more than 1,200 people in our sustainable biomass pellet production. Now we are preparing to build a new BECCS power station in the region.

    It’s clear to us that the U.S. is an ideal market for BECCS with its long-running sustainable forest industry and range of suitable sites for permanent CO2 storage. We see the country’s efforts to retire coal by 2030 and commitment to innovation as an opportunity to build one of the largest carbon removal projects in the U.S. Our first plant could be capable of permanently removing 2 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere a year, while also generating 2-terawatt hours of 24/7 renewable power.

    The U.S.’s newly legislated commitment to tackling climate change through the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab recent scenario planning for ‘100% clean electricity system’ are establishing it as the leading market to deploy new environmental technologies. And a new frontier for permanent, high-quality emissions removals.

    The need for high quality, permanent emissions removals

    A net zero future is only possible through the wide-spread implementation of high-integrity, carbon removals. BECCS offers this by combining low carbon, renewable biomass power generation with carbon capture technology and secure, permanent carbon sequestration.

    BECCS works by generating renewable electricity using biomass sourced from sustainably managed forests that absorb CO2 as they grow. CO2 released in the generation process is captured and stored, permanently and safely, in geological rock formations. The overall process removes more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits, resulting in negative emissions.

    This allows us to offer decarbonizing industries high-quality carbon removals credits. Given the scale of CO2that must be removed from the atmosphere and the importance for countries and companies around the world to reach net zero, I believe this market for verified CO2 removal credits is a trillion-dollar opportunity.

    Voluntary carbon markets have historically suffered from a lack of sustained and reliable investment due to fluctuating market prices and varying quality of the carbon credits they contain. However, increased oversight from investors, NGOs and independent bodies is encouraging credibility and integrity, prompting sustained adoption by businesses.

    Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner [click to view/download]

    We’ve demonstrated the growing appetite for carbon removals by signing the worlds largest carbon removals deal to date at New York Climate week. The agreement with Respira, an impact-driven carbon finance business, will allow it to purchase 400,000 metric tons of CO2 removals (CDRs) a year from our North American operations. This would enable other corporations and financial institutions to achieve their own CO2 emissions reduction targets, by purchasing CDRs from Respira.

    Deals like these make voluntary carbon markets a more effective means of reducing net CO2 emissions by securing commitments and driving investment in projects that deliver independently verified, high-quality emissions reductions. As the global economy works towards its net zero targets, CO2 removals will be crucial in reducing the still dangerously high levels of carbon in our atmosphere today.

    BECCS stands to be a powerful tool in a net zero future as the only technology capable of delivering both high quality, permanent carbon removals, while also delivering baseload renewable power. The ability to generate power with negative emissions will be crucial for increasingly electrified economies, as they move away from fossil fuels.

    The potential for the U.S.  

    Driven by a dynamic mix of markets, investors and engaged consumers, some of the most prominent U.S. companies are pledging to reach net zero, investing in 24/7 renewable power and other means to do so.

    Technology companies like Alphabet, Apple, and Microsoft have laid out ambitious plans to decarbonize operations, supply chains, and even remove historic emissions. Other organizations, like the First Movers Coalition, include U.S. companies from a range of sectors committing corporate purchasing power to solving difficult decarbonization challenges.

    This industry readiness is increasingly backed up by legislative policy action. The recent Inflation Reduction Act substantially increases the availability of the 45Q tax credit for carbon capture and storage projects, increasing their value from $50 a ton of carbon removals to $85 per ton, helping to further support the business case needed to deploy technologies like BECCS.

    We believe the U.S. is on the right track to create a market in which BECCS can thrive. The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab recent ‘100% clean electricity system’ report includes BECCS in three of the four possible scenarios explored. It forecasts the US will need between 7-14GW of installed BECCS capacity by 2035 to achieve an electricity system with net zero CO2 emissions. That equates to removals of approximately 55-120 Mt CO2 per year by 2035.

    The U.S.’s established forestry commercial industry, with its credible commitment to sustainable management offers ample low-grade wood and wood industry residues to power BECCS. The country’s long-running exploration of CO2 capture and transport, and history of industrial innovations means there are the skills, supply chains, and regulatory environment to undertake ambitious new infrastructure projects.

    LaSalle Forest

    BECCS is a proven technology and one that can scale up sooner than any other technology. But action is needed now to make these markets that can deliver large scale carbon removals projects a reality.

    Action is needed now

    For responsible businesses with the desire to go further, faster, or for sectors still developing viable decarbonization routes, carbon removals from BECCS deliver real, verifiable, and permanent progress towards net zero and beyond, to net negative.

    It’s encouraging to see the U.S. pass legislation that can facilitate investment into carbon removal technologies and develop the carbon credit market.

    However, carbon markets must have standards that are credible both in the business community, and in the environmental and civil society. Collaboration between governments, corporations, and NGOs will be critical to ensure we create systems that can tackle the climate emergency.

    We can’t afford to contemplate theoretical net zero futures. Buying and selling high-quality permanent removals is the action we need today. Now is the time to capture the opportunity and be part of the solution together.

    Forests, net zero and the science behind biomass

    Tackling climate change and spurring a global transition to net zero emissions will require collaboration between science and industry. New technologies and decarbonisation methods must be rooted in scientific research and testing.

    Drax has almost a decade of experience in using biomass as a renewable source of power. Over that time, our understanding around the effectiveness of bioenergy, its role in improving forest health and ability to deliver negative emissions, has accelerated.

    Research from governments and global organisations, such as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) increasingly highlight sustainably sourced biomass and bioenergy’s role in achieving net zero on a wide scale.

    The European Commission has also highlighted biomass’ potential to provide a solution that delivers both renewable energy and healthy, sustainably managed forests.  Frans Timmermans, the executive vice-president of the European Commission in charge of the European Green Deal has emphasised it’s importance in bringing economies to net zero, saying: “without biomass, we’re not going to make it. We need biomass in the mix, but the right biomass in the mix.”

    The role of biomass in a sustainable future

    Moving away from fossil fuels means building an electricity system that is primarily based on renewables. Supporting wind and solar, by providing electricity at times of low sunlight or wind levels, will require flexible sources of generation, such as biomass, as well as other technologies like increased energy storage.

    In the UK, the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) Sixth Carbon Budget report lays out its Balanced Net Zero Pathway. In this lead scenario, the CCC says that bioenergy can reduce fossil emissions across the whole economy by 2 million tonnes of CO2 or equivalent emissions (MtCO2e) per year by 2035, increasing to 2.5 MtCO2e in 2045.

    Foresters in working forest, Mississippi

    Foresters in working forest, Mississippi

    Biomass is also expected to play a crucial role in supplying biofuels and hydrogen production for sectors of the global economy that will continue to use fuel rather than electricity, such as aviation, shipping and industrial processes. The CCC’s Balanced Net Zero Pathway suggest that enough low-carbon hydrogen and bioenergy will be needed to deliver 425 TWh of non-electric power in 2050 – compared to the 1,000 TWh of power fossil fuels currently provide to industries today.

    However, bioenergy can only be considered to be good for the climate if the biomass used comes from sustainably managed sources. Good forest management practises ensure that forests remain sustainable sources of woody biomass and effective carbon sinks.

    A report co-authored by IPCC experts examines the scientific literature around the climate effects (principally CO2 abatement) of sourcing biomass for bioenergy from forests managed according to sustainable forest management principles and practices.

    The report highlights the dual impact managed forests contribute to climate change mitigation by providing material for forest products, including biomass that replace greenhouse gas (GHG)-intensive fossil fuels, and by storing carbon in forests and in long-lived forest products.

    The role of biomass and bioenergy in decarbonising economies goes beyond just replacing fossil fuels. The addition of carbon capture and storage (CCS) to bioenergy to create bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) enables renewable power generation while removing carbon from the atmosphere and carbon cycle permanently.

    The negative emissions made possible by BECCS are now seen as a fundamental part of many scenarios to limit global warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels.

    BECCS and the path to net zero

    The IPCC’s special report on limiting global warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels, emphasises that even across a wide range of scenarios for energy systems, all share a substantial reliance on bioenergy – coupled with effective land-use that prevents it contributing to deforestation.

    The second chapter of the report deals with pathways that can bring emissions down to zero by the mid-century. Bioenergy use is substantial in 1.5°C pathways with or without CCS due to its multiple roles in decarbonising both electricity generation and other industries that depend on fossil fuels.

    However, it’s the negative emissions made possible by BECCS that make biomass  instrumental in multiple net zero scenarios. The IPCC report highlights BECCS alongside the associated afforestation and reforestation (AR), that comes with sustainable forest management, are key components in pathways that limit climate change to 1.5oC.

    Graphic showing how BECCS removes carbon from the atmosphere. Click to view/download

    There are two key factors that make BECCS and other forms of emissions removals so essential: The first is their ability to neutralise residual emissions from sources that are not reducing their emissions fast enough and those that are difficult or even impossible to fully decarbonise. Aviation and agriculture are two sectors vital to the global economy with hard-to-abate emissions. Negative emissions technologies can remove an equivalent amount of CO2 that these industries produce helping balance emissions and progressing economies towards net zero.

    The second reason BECCS and other negative emissions technologies will be so important in the future is in the removal of historic CO2 emissions. What makes CO2 such an important GHG to reduce and remove is that it lasts much longer in the atmosphere than any other. To help reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting temperature rises to below 1.5oC removing historic emissions from the atmosphere will be essential.

    In the UK, the  CCC’s 2018 report ‘Biomass in a low-carbon economy’ also points to BECCS as both a crucial source of energy and emissions abatement.

    It suggests that power generation from BECCS will increase from 3 TWh per year in 2035 to 45 TWh per year in 2050. It marks a sharp increase from the 19.5 TWh that biomass (without CCS) accounted for across 2020, according to Electric Insights data. It also suggests that BECCS could sequester 1.1 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of biomass used, providing clear negative emissions.

    However, the report makes clear that unlocking the potential of bioenergy and BECCS is only possible when biomass stocks are managed in a sustainable way that, as a minimum requirement, maintains the carbon stocks in plants and soils over time.

    With increased attention paid to forest management and land use, there is a growing body of evidence that points to bioenergy as a win-win solution that can decarbonise power and economies, while supporting healthy forests that effectively sequester CO2.

    How bioenergy ensures sustainable forests

    Biomass used in electricity generation and other industries must come from sustainable sources to offer a renewable, climate beneficial [or low carbon] source of power.

    UK legislation on biomass sourcing states that operators must maintain an adequate inventory of the trees in the area (including data on the growth of the trees and on the extraction of wood) to ensure that wood is extracted from the area at a rate that does not exceed its long-term capacity to produce wood. This is designed to ensure that areas where biomass is sourced from retain their productivity and ability to continue sequestering carbon.

    Ensuring that forestland remains productive and protected from land-use changes, such as urban creep, where vegetated land is converted into urban, concreted spaces, depends on a healthy market for wood products. Industries such as construction and furniture offer higher prices for higher-quality wood. While low-quality, waste wood, as well as residues from forests and wood-industry by-products, can be bought and used to produce biomass pellets.

    A report by Forest 2 Market examined the relationship between demand for wood and forests’ productivity and ability to sequester carbon in the US South, where Drax sources about two-thirds of its biomass.

    The report found that increased demand for wood did not displace forests in the US South. Instead, it encouraged landowners to invest in productivity improvements that increased the amount of wood fibre and therefore carbon contained in the region’s forests.

    A synthesis report, which examines a broad range of research papers,  published in Forest Ecology and Management in March of 2021, concluded from existing studies that claims of large-scale damage to biodiversity from woody biofuel in the South East US are not supported. The use of these forest residues as an energy source was also found to lead to net GHG greenhouse emissions savings compared to fossil fuels, according to Forest Research.

    Importantly the research shows that climate risks are not exacerbated because of biomass sourcing; in fact, the opposite is true with annual wood growth in the US South increasing by 112% between 1953 and 2015.

    Delivering a “win-win solution”

    The European Commission’s JRC Science for Policy literature review and knowledge synthesis report ‘The use of woody biomass for energy production in the EU’ suggests  a win-win forest bioenergy pathway is possible, that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term, while at the same time not damaging, or even improving, the condition of forest ecosystems.

    However, it also makes clear “lose-lose” situations is also a possible, in which forest ecosystems are damaged without providing carbon emission reductions in policy-relevant timeframes.

    Win-win management practices must benefit climate change mitigation and have either a neutral or positive effect on biodiversity. A win-win future would see the afforestation of former arable land with diverse and naturally regenerated forests.

    The report also warns of trade-offs between local biodiversity and mitigating carbon emissions, or vice versa. These must be carefully navigated to avoid creating a lose-lose scenario where biodiversity is damaged and natural forests are converted into plantations, while BECCS fails to deliver the necessary negative emissions.

    In a future that will depend on science working in collaboration with industries to build a net zero future continued research is key to ensuring biomass can deliver the win-win solution of renewable electricity with negative emissions while supporting healthy forests.

    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?

    What is direct air carbon capture and storage (DACS)?

    What is direct air carbon capture and storage (DACS)?

    Direct air carbon capture and storage (DACS, sometimes referred to as DAC or DACCS) is one of the few technologies that can remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Unlike other carbon removal technologies that capture CO2 emissions during the process of generating electricity or heat, DACS can be deployed anywhere in the world it can tap into a supply of electricity.

    CO2 removal is crucial to meeting the international climate goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. But it’s not enough just to cut CO2 emissions, to achieve net zero, it will also be necessary to remove the CO2 that two centuries of industrialisation have released into the environment. As a technology that removes more CO2 from the atmosphere than it releases – assuming it is powered by green electricity – DACS has the potential to play a key role in this process.

    Key direct air capture facts

    How does DACS work?

    DACS could be described as a form of industrial photosynthesis. Just as plants use photosynthesis to convert sunlight and CO2 into sugar, DACS systems use electricity to remove CO2 from the atmosphere using fans and filters.

    Air is drawn into the DACS system using an industrial scale fan. Liquid DACS systems pass the air through a chemical solution which removes the CO2 and returns the rest of the air back into the atmosphere.

    Solid DACS systems captures CO2 on the surface of a filter covered in a chemical agent, where it then forms a compound. The new compound is heated, releasing the CO2 to be captured and separating it from the chemical agent, which can then be recycled.

    The captured CO2 can then be compressed under very high pressure and pumped via pipelines into deep geological formations. This permanent storage process is known as ‘sequestration’.

    Alternatively, the CO2 can be pumped under low pressure for immediate use in commercial processes, such as carbonating drinks or cement manufacturing.

    A 2021 study by the Coalition for Negative Emissions shows that DACS could provide at least 1Gt of sustainable negative emissions by 2025

    DACS fast facts

    What role can DACS play in decarbonisation?

    CO2 is in the air at the same concentration everywhere in the world. This means that DACS plants can be located anywhere, unlike carbon capture systems that remove CO2 from industrial processes at source.

    There are 15 DACS plants currently in operation worldwide – Climeworks operates three in Switzerland, Iceland and Italy. Together, these small-scale plants capture approximately 9,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum. The first large-scale plant, currently being developed in the Permian Basin, Texas, is expected to capture 1,000,000 tonnes (one megatonne) per annum when it becomes operational in 2025.

    At just 0.04%, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is very dilute which makes removing and storing it a challenge. This means that DACS costs significantly more than some other CO2 capture technologies – between $200 and $600 (£156-468) per metric tonne. The process also requires large amounts of energy, which adds to the demand for electricity.

    However, DACS has the potential to become an important piece in the jigsaw of CO2 removal technologies and techniques that includes nature-based solutions such as planting forests, along with bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), soil sequestration and ‘blue carbon’ marine initiatives.

    Go deeper

    Button: What is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)?

    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

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    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 decarbonisation?

    Decarbonisation

    What is decarbonisation?

    Decarbonisation is the term used for the process of removing or reducing the carbon dioxide (CO2) output of a country’s economy. This is usually done by decreasing the amount of CO2 emitted across the active industries within that economy. 

    Why is decarbonisation important?

    Currently, a wide range of sectors – industrial, residential and transport – run largely on fossil fuels, which means that their energy comes from the combustion of fuels like coal, oil or gas.

    The CO2 emitted from using these fuels acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping in heat and contributing to global warming. By using alternative sources of energy, industries can reduce the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere and can help to slow the effects of climate change.

    Key decarbonisation facts

    Why target carbon dioxide?

     There are numerous greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, however CO2 is the most prevalent. As of 2018, carbon levels are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years.

    The Paris Agreement was created to hold nations accountable in their efforts to decrease carbon emissions, with the central goal of ensuring that temperatures don’t rise 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial level.

    With 195 current signatories, economies have begun to factor in the need for less investment in carbon, with the UK leading the G20 nations in decarbonising its economy in the 21st century.

    How is decarbonisation carried out?

    There are numerous energy technologies that aim to reduce emissions from industries, as well as those that work towards reducing carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

    Decarbonisation has had the most progress in electricity generation because of the growth of renewable sources of power, such as wind turbines, solar panels and coal-to-biomass upgrades, meaning that homes and businesses don’t have to rely on fossil fuels. Other innovations, such as using batteries and allowing homes to generate and share their own power, can also lead to higher rates of decarbonisation. As the electricity itself is made cleaner, it therefore assists electricity users themselves to become cleaner in the process.

    Other approaches, such as reforestation or carbon capture and storage, help to pull existing carbon from the air, to neutralise carbon output, or in some cases, help to make electricity generation – and even entire nations – carbon negative.

    Alternative power options means that homes and businesses don’t have to rely on traditional carbon fuels.

    What is the future of decarbonisation?

    For decarbonisation to be more widely adopted as a method for combating climate change, there needs to be structural economical change, according to Deloitte Access Economics. Creating more room for decarbonisation through investing in alternative energies means that “there are a multitude of job-rich, shovel-ready, stimulus opportunities that also unlock long-term value”.

     Decarbonisation fast facts

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    From steel to soil – how industries are capturing carbon

    Construction metallic bars in a row

    Carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) is a vital technology in the energy industry, with facilities already in place all over the world aiming to eliminate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

    However, for decarbonisation to go far enough to keep global warming below 2oC – as per the Paris Climate Agreement – emission reductions are needed throughout the global economy.

    From cement factories to farmland, CCUS technology is beginning to be deployed in a wide variety of sectors around the world.

    Construction

    The global population is increasingly urban and by 2050 it’s estimated 68% of all people will live in cities. For cities to grow sustainably, it’s crucial the environmental impact of the construction industry is reduced.

    Construction currently accounts for 11% of all global carbon emissions. This includes emissions from the actual construction work, such as from vehicle exhaust pipes, but a more difficult challenge is reducing embedded emissions from the production of construction materials.

    Steel and concrete are emissions-heavy to make; they require intense heat and use processes that produce further emissions. Deploying widespread CCUS in the production of these two materials holds the key to drastically reducing carbon emissions from the built environment.

    Steel manufacturing alone, regardless of the electricity used to power production, is responsible for about 7% of global emissions. Projects aimed at reducing the levels of carbon released in production are planned in Europe and are already in motion in the United Arab Emirates.

    Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Masdar, a renewable energy and sustainability company, formed a joint venture in 2013 with the aim of developing commercial-scale CCUS projects.

    In its project with Emirates Steel, which began in 2016, about 800,000 tonnes of CO2 is captured a year from the steel manufacturing plant. This is sequestered and used in enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The commercially self-sustaining nature of this project has led to investigation into multiple future industrial-scale projects in the region.

    Cement manufacturing, a process that produces as much as 8% of global greenhouse gases, is also experiencing the growth of innovative CCUS projects.

    Pouring ready-mixed concrete after placing steel reinforcement to make the road by mixing in construction site

    Norcem Cement plant in Brevik, Norway has already begun experimenting with CCUS, calculating that it could capture 400,000 tonnes of CO2 per year and store it under the North Sea. If the project wins government approval, Norcem could commence operations as soon as 2023.

    However, as well as reducing emissions from traditional cement manufacturing and the electricity sources that power it, a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology is exploring a new method of cement production that is more CCUS friendly.

    By pre-treating the limestone used in cement creation with an electrochemical process, the CO2 produced is released in a pure, concentrated stream that can be more easily captured and sequestered underground or harnessed for products, such as fizzy drinks.

    Agriculture

    It’s hard to overstate the importance of the agriculture industry. As well as feeding the world, it employs a third of it.

    Within this sector, fertiliser plays an essential role in maintaining the global food supply. However, the fertiliser production industry represents approximately 2% of global CO2 emissions.

    CCUS technology can reduce the CO2 contributions made by the manufacturing of fertiliser, while maintaining crop reliability. In 2019, Oil and Gas Climate Initiative’s (OGCI) Climate Investments announced funding for what is expected to be the biggest CCUS project in the US.

    Tractor with pesticide fungicide insecticide sprayer on farm land top view Spraying with pesticides and herbicides crops

    Based at the Wabash Valley Resources fertiliser plant in Indiana, the project will capture between 1.3 and 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 from the ammonia producer per year. The captured carbon will then be stored 2,000 metres below ground in a saline aquifer.

    Similarly, since the turn of the millennium Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Engineering has deployed CCUS technology at fertiliser plants around Asia. CO2 is captured from natural gas pre-combustion, and used to create the urea fertiliser.

    However, the agriculture industry can also capture carbon in more nature-based and cheaper ways.

    Soil acts as a carbon sink, capturing and locking in the carbon from plants and grasses that die and decay into it. However, intensive ploughing can damage the soil’s ability to retain CO2.

    It only takes slight adjustments in farming techniques, like minimising soil disturbance, or crop and grazing rotations, to enable soil and grasslands to sequester greater levels of CO2 and even make farms carbon negative.

    Transport

    The transport sector is the fastest growing contributor to climate emissions, according to the World Health Organisation. Electric vehicles and hydrogen fuels are expected to serve as the driving force for much of the sector’s decarbonisation, however, at present these technologies are only really making an impact on roads. There are other essential modes of transport where CCUS has a role to play. 

    Climeworks, a Swiss company developing units that capture CO2 directly from the air, has begun working with Rotterdam The Hague Airport to develop a direct air capture (DAC) unit on the airport’s grounds.

    Climeworks Plant technology [Source: Climeworks Photo by Julia Dunlop]

    hydrogen filling station in the Hamburg harbor city

    Hydrogen filling station in Hamburg, Germany.

    However, beyond just capturing CO2 from planes taking off, Climeworks aims to use the CO2 to produce a synthetic jet fuel – creating a cycle of carbon reusage that ensures none is emitted into the atmosphere. A pilot project aims to create 1,000 litres of the fuel per day in 2021.

    Another approach to zero-carbon transport fuel is the utilisation of hydrogen, which is already powering cars, trains, buses and even spacecraft.

    Hydrogen can be produced in a number of ways, but it’s predominantly created from natural gas, through a process in which CO2 is a by-product. CCUS can play an important role here in capturing the CO2 and storing it, preventing it entering the atmosphere.

    The hydrogen-powered vehicles then only emit water vapour and heat.

    From every industry to every business to everyone

    As CCUS technology continues to be deployed at scale and made increasingly affordable, it has the potential to go beyond just large industrial sites, to entire economic regions.

    Global Thermostat is developing DAC technology which can be fitted to any factory or plant that produces heat in its processes. The system uses the waste heat to power a DAC unit, either from a particular source or from the surrounding atmosphere. Such technologies along with those already in action like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), can quickly make negative emissions a reality at scale.

    However, to capture, transport and permanently store CO2 at the scale needed to reach net zero, collaboration partnerships and shared infrastructure between businesses in industrial regions is essential.

    The UK’s Humber region is an example of an industrial cluster where a large number of high-carbon industrial sites sit in close proximity to one another. By installing BECCS and CCUS infrastructure that can be utilised by multiple industries, the UK can have a far greater impact on emissions levels than through individual, small-scale CCUS projects.

    Decarbonising the UK and the world will not be achieved by individual sites and industries but by collective action that transcends sectors, regions and supply chains. Implementing CCUS at as large a scale as possible takes a greater stride towards bringing the wider economy and society to net zero.

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