I’ve just returned from a fascinating conference,  Carbon Capture & Storage: a strategy for industrial development, organised by the Institution of Civil Engineers and held at Arup’s offices in Solihull. There were several excellent presentations including a keynote by Tim Yeo MP, Chairman Energy & Climate Change Select Committee .

Tim emphasised the need to implement Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) to ensure we can bridge the gap between energy demand and renewables whilst moving towards de-carbonised electricity. If the UK can develop the technology then it can create a new industry by selling it to countries such as China, India and Poland which have large reserves of fossil fuels and rapidly growing demand for energy. The UK is well placed as it has large offshore storage potential in the North sea.

CCS can be applied to approximately 47% of the European carbon emissions (it’s difficult to apply it to car exhausts) and this percentage will grow as more ‘green’ solutions, such as heat pumps and electric vehicles, remove emissions at point of use.  CCS may account for 20% of the required CO2 reductions by 2050 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

There are many issues with CCS including a complex political and legal landscape, due to the requirements of H&S, competition, etc. as well as the fact that, initially at least, any developments will only be viable if funded from taxation. One of the most revealing comments was that the legal and commercial risks attached to carbon storage are more extensive and longer-term than those attached to carbon emissions!

The above, of course, ignores the technical challenges which are substantial and the fact that although there are at least three potentially viable technologies they all decrease the efficiency of electricity generation by a significant amount (8-13%).  CCS will also have to operate in an era when fossil fuels are used to fill in the demand when renewable energy sources are not available (when the wind doesn’tblow), so previous engineering approaches which favoured high-utilisation will not be applicable.

Carbon capture is an expensive,  complex,  large-scale, and as yet unproven solution to meet the need to reduce CO2 emissions. However, the message of the conference was that CCS is one part of the overall jigsaw that we must use if we are to reduce emissions without significant changes in lifestyle.