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The Viability of Carbon Capture and Storage in UK Power Stations

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sciences
Wordcount: 3476 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cautioned that we have until 2030 to ensure global warming does not go beyond 1.5°C.  Carbon Dioxide (CO2) removal technology was advocated as a key factor to make this happen(IPCC, 2018). Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is currently mooted as a key technology but it remains open to much debate (IES Factsheet, n.d.; Carrington D, 2012; “Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)”, 2018). Proponents mainly in the Energy sector seek to highlight the positives based on long term experience of the technology (“Delivering CCS – Essential infrastructure for a competitive, low-carbon economy”, 2015; Carbon Capture and Storage, “What is CCS”, n.d.; Owen-Jones J, 2017). Opponents propose phasing out the fossil fuel industry, claiming storing billions of tonnes of CO2 underground is highly costly and risky (“Carbon capture and storage a costly, risky distraction”, 2016; “Summary of costs and risks.”, 2012; Fogarty J, McCally M, 2010; Ash K, 2015).

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The objective of this paper is to review the viability of CCS in UK power stations. This is based on reviewing work on CCS whether in the UK or abroad as this will provide a more comprehensive view of the challenges faced and the lessons learnt(Dixon P, Mitchell T, 2016). Viability is broken down into three key elements: Technology, Commercial and Environmental sustainability. With all major projects of this type and to offset potential risks the technology has to be fit for purpose and reasonably well established; the business case must be sound otherwise power station owners and partners may consider the financial risk too high; and with any environmental undertaking the solution must actually help reduce climate effects and be sustainable over the long term. These are considered the proof points in concluding the viability of CCS in UK power stations.

Carbon Capture and Storage

First the CO2 is separated from the gas effluent produced via electricity generation by one of three methods: pre-combustion capture, post-combustion capture and oxy-fuel combustion.

The captured CO2  is then transportable by pipeline, road tanker or ship for storage 2-3km underground in non-productive oil and gas fields or deep water permeable rocks that are saturated with salt water.

At every point in the CCS process industry would claim it has a number of process technologies that are well understood with good health and safety records, including millions of tonnes of CO2 already being transported annually. They argue commercial deployment of CCS involves the widespread adoption of these CCS technologies, combined with robust monitoring techniques and Government regulation.

UK Power Stations

In 2016, total electricity production stood at 357 TWh generated from the following sources (UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Electricity Statistics, 2018). 

In 2015 the Energy Supply sector emitted 144Mt CO2 which is 29% of emissions by sector (UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), 2017):

Power generation is the largest source of CO2   in the Energy sector (UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), 2017)

Thus, Fossil fuel power stations are a focus for CCS.

The UK initiated two competitions to determine the validity of CCS at scale in power stations, one in 2007 (National Audit Office. Carbon capture and storage: lessons from the competition for the first UK demonstration, 2012).  and one in 2015 (National Audit Office. Carbon Capture and Storage: the second competition for government support, 2017). The 2007 competition was cancelled for reason of protecting value for money and the project could not be contained within the £1bn budget agreed at the 2010 Spending Review. The subsequent report concluded this had been a high risk, challenging undertaking with insufficient planning and understanding of the commercial risks (National Audit Office. Carbon capture and storage: lessons from the competition for the first UK demonstration, 2012).  

The 2015 competition also did not achieve value for money for its £100m spend. The report highlighted the UK plan was ambitious with challenging goals but ultimately unsuccessful. The report cited the untried nature of the technology which meant the business case for the proposed projects were essentially untenable (National Audit Office. Carbon Capture and Storage: the second competition for government support, 2017).                                                                                        

It is difficult to understand if lessons were learnt from 2007 as cost/benefit and technology challenges were also key issues in 2015.

Following cancellation, the focus became to build new gas-fired power stations (“Gas power stations given go-ahead”, 2012). This implied these stations must fit CCS technology otherwise they would not meet Carbon targets and thus have to close by 2030. But by cancelling the CCS competition, and thus without appropriate technology, it suggests fitting CCS to be very unlikely and thus not a timely and viable option to help achieve climate change targets.

After two competitions costing taxpayers £168 million, the UK is no closer to establishing CCS (HM Treasury, 2017) Hence the viability of CCS in UK power stations has never been fully tested. This means looking abroad to see what lessons might be learnt and used in the UK context.

In the last 10 years the European Commission has spent over £375m on CCS but failed to commercially deploy the technology. The European Court of Auditors (ECA) recommended the EU adapt its proposed 2021 Innovation Fund to increase support for such projects to reduce emissions and tackle climate change (“EU failing on commercial CCS deployment, say auditors” 2018).  This appears to allow little time to meet 2030 targets, particularly to organise, agree and implement suitable projects.

In July 2018 the UK Government documented its new approach to Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS). This recognises the potential importance of CCUS to support the decarbonisation of the UK’s economy (Delivering Clean Growth: CCUS Cost Challenge Taskforce, 2018) It promotes decarbonisation projects in geographical clusters as the fastest way for the UK to drive down costs and take advantage of the value that CCUS is considered to offer across a number of CO2 intense industries.

While there are currently no viable at scale UK Power Station projects or tangible results to suggest the efficacy of CCS, the UK and EU continue to support the development of CCS capability. There main focus must therefore be on heavy industry: cement; steel; plastics; and heavy duty transport: heavy road transport; shipping and aviation.


When discussing the viability of CCS in UK power stations there are three key elements that need to be considered: Technical; Commercial and Environmental Sustainability.

Technical Viability

CCS was originally developed as an Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) method where pressurised CO2 is pumped into older oil reservoirs to recover inaccessible oil and boost production.  In the oil industry an advanced EOR methodology is considered a way to bring together two business activities, oil recovery and CO2 ‘storage for profit (“Storing CO2 through Enhanced Oil Recovery: Combining EOR with CO2 storage (EOR+) for profit,” 2015). The Global CCS Institute catalogues 17 operational, commercial-scale CCS facilities world-wide. Of which 2 are coal power generation plants. 13 use the captured CO2 for EOR purposes. Of 4 facilities under construction, 3 are for EOR. (Global CCS Institute, “Large-scale CCS facilities,” 2017).

This suggests the motivation for CCS is improved oil production, which will increase emissions.

As of August 2018, there are 2 UK projects in early development; Caledonia Clean Energy, and Teeside Collective.  There total capture capacity is 3.8 Mtpa. Both have dedicated storage in offshore deep saline formations. Caledonia has the potential for EOR (Global CCS Institute, “Large-scale CCS facilities,” 2017)

They are not large enough to indicate CCS working at commercial scale in UK Power Stations.

The technology has not advanced much since Greenpeace’s assessment in 2008 (“The problem with carbon capture and storage (CCS)” 2008).

Technical and cost issues have led to programme cancellations and companies leaving projects including the:

Mongstad project in Norway cancelled in 2013;

US FutureGen CCS facility closed in 2015; and

EU carbon capture platform in 2015 (“Carbon capture and storage a costly, risky distraction”,2016).  

Even projects considered successful have encountered problems, for example the SaskPower coal-fired Boundary Dam project in Canada (“Carbon capture and storage a costly, risky distraction”,2016).

Commercial Viability

The CCS process is costly. Capture and gas compression phase’s account for up to 90% of the total cost of CCS (“Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) in the United States”2017) And compared with renewables: 40%; 125% and 260% more costly than solar; wind; and geothermal energy respectively for every kg of CO2 emissions avoided (per unit of electricity generated)(“Carbon capture and storage a costly, risky distraction”, 2016).

The CCS industry thus seeks subsidies from Government to run CCS power stations – not receiving such subsidies was a key reason for Drax to remove itself from the 2015 competition(“Drax pulls out of £1bn carbon capture project”, 2015).

Environmental Sustainability Viability

Around 30% of electricity produced at a post-combustion capture facility would be required to power the CCS process.  Thus, for a coal-fired power station more coal needs to be mined and burned in order to produce the same power output without CCS(House K. et al., 2008).

This means no climate benefit.

Permanently storing CO2 in an old oil field is also viewed as risky particularly in areas with multiple drilling wells where leakage may result in ocean acidification. For example, after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 27,000 abandoned wells were found to be insufficiently sealed(“Carbon capture and storage a costly, risky distraction” 2016).


To deliver reductions, the stored CO2 must remain underground permanently. If leaked back into the atmosphere, it could make climate change worse and threaten people and animals. The risks are highlighted9 as shown in Table 2:

CO2 storage is risky. Industry expects governments to take responsibility for storage sites once closed. In the event of a leak, Industry would not be responsible for the consequences(“Carbon capture and storage a costly, risky distraction”, 2016).


CCS at a UK Governmental level continues to be regarded as having the potential to play a central role in decarbonising the UK’s economy at the lowest cost. However, there are challenges to deploying CCS in UK Power Stations that mean it may not be currently technically, environmentally or commercially viable, including the need to build supporting infrastructure and manage long-term storage risks.  The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has sought to support construction of the first CCS facilities in the UK through two competitions but neither has reached a successful conclusion, and there are still no CCS plants at scale working in the UK. CCS thus continues to be an ambitious goal. High costs, technical issues and environmental sustainability challenges need to be resolved. It would suggest that the work governed by the CCUS needs to quickly demonstrate CCS viability and until the inherent costs and risks are significantly reduced implementing CCS in UK power stations may not be the best investment for the UK.




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