Science & Environment

Pump CO2 into rocks, report urges

Olympic stadium Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption An Olympic-style delivery agency could ensure the costs of implementing CCS are kept to a minimum, says the report

The costs of tackling climate change can be slashed if a network of pipes is built to store waste carbon dioxide under the North Sea, a report says.

The technology - carbon capture and storage (CCS) – involves pumping CO2 emissions from power stations into rock formations.

It is expensive, but parliamentary advisors say the costs can be halved.

Savings can be achieved if the system to deliver the London Olympics is copied, they tell ministers.

The climate change minister Nick Hurd told BBC News he would welcome new ideas for promoting CCS.

Will carbon capture ever happen in the UK?

The technology is regarded by many experts as an essential weapon in the battle against climate change as it allows the use of fossil fuels to continue until electricity storage for renewables improves.

But last November the government scrapped an industry competition to promote it, citing the £1bn cost.

Now the Parliamentary Advisory Group on CCS says a CO2 pipeline network created by the equivalent of a stand-alone Olympic delivery agency would solve the problem.

Industrial boost

It says the publicly-owned network could reduce the UK’s bill for cutting CO2 emissions by billions of pounds a year – but only if the government takes a lead by creating the vast network of pipes that will be needed.

The report’s chairman, the geologist and former Shell chairman Lord Oxburgh, told BBC News: “There are some things that are best left to the private sector - but CCS on industry isn't one of them.

“The network of pipes taking CO2 from industrial plant into the North Sea would be far beyond the commercial reach of individual companies. This needs government action.”

CCS uses a chemical process to strip CO2 emissions from the exhaust gases of industrial plant and power stations. The gas is then pushed through pipes before being pumped under pressure into rocks - to be stored (hopefully) for ever. The North Sea is ideal with its many depleted gas fields.

In a report to Business Secretary Greg Clark, the group claims CCS is now ready to be deployed at £85/MWh over a 15-year period – that’s significantly below the cost for nuclear power, and comparable to many renewable options.

The report says by 2050, CCS could be responsible for curbing as much as 40% of emissions, saving up to £5bn annually compared with alternative strategies.

Gas dependence

The group included experts from industry and finance as well as representatives from the Conservative, Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat parties.

Lord Oxburgh warned that the UK would fail to meet its climate targets unless new gas power stations are fitted with CCS.

Critics will say that the huge cost of a CCS network will lock the UK into gas dependency for baseload power for decades while the bill is paid back.

Some academics point out that the key use of gas into the 2030s will be to back up intermittent renewables: CCS will not fit that purpose as the network will need to be used continuously.

The report also proposes the creation of a Heat Transformation Group to assess the options for decarbonising the UK’s heating systems - including the possible conversion of the country’s gas supply system from methane to hydrogen.

The government was criticised by MPs last week for slipping on renewable heat targets.

The new climate change minister Nick Hurd told BBC News: “We are looking forward to seeing the CCS report. We are keen to get new ideas on how to promote CCS.”

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