Carbon Capture: is the challenge commercial not technical?

There was a lot of positivity at the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transports conference on carbon capture and storage (CCS) held on February 9th in London.


There was a lot of positivity at the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transports conference on carbon capture and storage (CCS) held on February 9th in London. CCS was hit hard by the withdrawal of a billion pounds of funding by the government in 2015, stunting research and development in the field which is yet to really take off anywhere in the world.

CCS is expected to play a big role in the UK’s carbon commitments throughout the next century. This was emphasised by the first speaker of the day, Will Lochhead head of CCS Policy at BEIS, who stated that up to 22% of carbon targets would have to be met by CCS by 2050. This equates to 94 giga tonnes of stored carbon. It was suggested by Tim Yeo the chair of New Nuclear Watch Europe and former chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, that the UK had an advantage in storing its carbon. As an island we have the option of burying our carbon far from land, a possible solution which south China has already begun investigating.

Unsurprisingly the big topic of the conference was the cost of carbon capture. This has been its biggest drawback, particularly when compared with the economic benefits of carbon neutral technologies. Current cost estimates are varied due to the lack of successful projects informing it, but they are roughly around £115MWH. So how much cheaper will CCS have to be to be economically viable? According to George Day the Head of Economic Strategy at the Energy Technologies Institute, if the cost of CCS could be reduced to nearer £85MWH that would turn CCS into a real carbon reducing option.

"If the cost of CCS could be reduced to nearer £85MWH that would turn CCS into a real carbon reducing option."

A lot that still needs to be done to make CCS possible in the UK, and talk quickly turned to policy at the carbon capture conference. Yeo advised CCS certificates and requirements for businesses to either use CCS or purchase counterbalancing certificates. Whilst there are no set plans for the future, it does seem clear that government will need to have a much bigger role going forward, with almost all the speakers encouraging a stronger government presence in R&D and implementation.

One of the biggest questions the carbon capture conference brought up was whether the challenges facing CCS are commercial instead of technical? This question divides opinion, with great variance in estimates of the pace of or efficacy of technological advances.  

CCS has an important part to play in our carbon journey but it has a long way to go. It seems clear that more funding is needed, more governmental help is needed and that technological advances which would allow for cost reduction. In the meantime however, Professor Jon Gibbons the director of the UK CCS Research Centre made the poignant point that maybe ‘CCS is one of those things where you’re pretty much just spending money on climate change’ and not for economic gain.

Will that be its downfall? It remains to be seen.