Carbon capture and storage: what is CCUS technology, how does it work - Scotland Acorn project explained
Carbon capture has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change
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In addition to supporting future North Sea oil and gas development, Rishi Sunak has announced that two additional carbon capture and storage projects will move forward as part of the effort to achieve net zero emissions.
The Acorn project in Scotland's north-east region and the Viking project in the Humber are now receiving support as part of the government's commitment to provide up to £20 billion in funding for early deployment of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technologies.
The announcement came as Sunak also pledged to future North Sea oil and gas licencing rounds, and are the third and fourth such CCUS projects to receive support from the UK Government.
But what exactly is carbon capture technology? How does it work, and how effective is it in the fight against climate change? Here is everything you need to know about it.
What is carbon capture technology?
CCUS is a process that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions produced by power stations, factories and other industrial processes and stores them in a secure location, preventing them from entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.
The technology is seen as a crucial part of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change, and can help improve air quality by reducing other pollutants that are often emitted alongside CO2 during industrial processes.
It works by separating CO2 from other gases, compressing it into a liquid and transporting it through pipelines or other means to an underground storage site, which could be a depleted oil or gas reservoir or other geological formation.
There are several examples of successful carbon capture technology projects around the world, including the Petra Nova project in Texas, which captures CO2 from a coal-fired power plant, and the Gorgon project, which captures up to 3.4 million tons of CO2 from a natural gas facility in Western Australia per year.
What are the benefits and drawbacks?
The benefits of CCUS include the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate climate change and extend the use of fossil fuels while transitioning to renewable energy sources.
However, there are potential environmental risks associated with storing CO2 underground, such as the possibility of leakage or accidental release, and the cost of maintaining storage sites can be high.
There are also concerns that investing in carbon capture technology may slow the transition to renewable energy sources by providing a false sense of security that emissions can be controlled without a more comprehensive shift to alternative energy sources.
Indeed, Sunak's announcement of further CCUS sites coincided with a pledge to upcoming North Sea oil and gas licencing rounds; environmental protesters, including Greta Thunberg, are already insisting that permission should not be given to develop the Rosebank oil and gas field to the west of Shetland.
Will it work?
Sunak has insisted that having new licensing rounds was “absolutely the right thing to do”, and told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “Even when we reach net zero in 2050 a quarter of our energy needs will still come from oil and gas, and domestic has production has about a quarter of a third of the carbon footprint of imported gas."
But Jamie Livingstone, the head of Oxfam Scotland said backing new licensing rounds was a “short-sighted and selfish decision by the UK Government” which “flies in the face of climate science and common sense”.
Livingstone said: “If these fields come on stream in the future, they will deal another devastating blow to the millions of people in low-income countries whose lives and homes are already being destroyed by a crisis they did least to cause."
Mike Childs, the head of policy at environmental charity Friends of the Earth, said: “Climate change is already battering the planet with unprecedented wildfires and heatwaves across the globe. Granting hundreds of new oil and gas licences will simply pour more fuel on the flames.
He added: “Talking up carbon capture and storage (CCS) is an obvious attempt to put a green gloss on the Prime Minister’s announcement.
“Even if it ever worked, which is unlikely in the near term, CCS won’t capture all the climate pollution caused by burning fossil fuels or address the significant emissions that are created when gas and oil is extracted.”
Where will the carbon capture sites be?
The first UK locations for storing captured carbon were revealed by the government earlier this year as part of its Powering Up Britain strategy, and included three Teesside locations that would capture CO2 and store it beneath the North Sea.
Now, as part of the government's pledge to provide up to £20 billion in funding for the early deployment of CCUS, the Acorn project in Scotland's north-eastern region and the Viking project in the Humber are now receiving support.