Our planet is heating up, and the impacts of climate change are already being felt across the world. We all know reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential for our planet’s future. However, research shows that, given the scale and urgency of the challenge of reducing emissions across the entire economy, meeting climate change targets will require both carbon capture and storage and greenhouse gas removals. In this blog, Dr Clair Gough and Dr Sarah Mander discuss the necessity for carbon capture and storage in tandem with greenhouse gas removals to achieve the UK’s net zero ambitions.
- Reaching net zero, whilst retaining a thriving industrial sector, requires carbon capture, both within and beyond industrial clusters, and access to shared transport and storage infrastructure.
- Achieving the changes required to deliver net zero will require approaches with a strong social licence to operate and place-based planning processes which are just.
- Cross-sectoral decarbonisation requires a strategic approach, including prioritising use of hydrogen and biomass in the sectors where they are most effective.
CCS is essential for decarbonising industry
To meet the UK’s net zero ambitions there is a legal target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, as set out in the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) Sixth Carbon Budget. Many industries emit CO2 through fossil fuel use, while others, such as steel, cement and some chemical production, emit CO2 directly during production. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is the capturing, transporting and long-term disposal of CO2. Without CCS, it will be impossible to bring emissions from certain industries close to zero, even with improved efficiency and circular economy approaches.
2022: a critical year for climate policy action
The CCC recommend 22Mt of CO2 per year is captured and stored in 2030, but policy support for CCS over the past decade has been intermittent. However, with the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution in 2020 and the UK Net Zero Strategy, policy ambitions for CCS of 20–30Mt CO2 captured per year by 2030 from four clusters, are now aligned with the CCC recommendations. Government strategy and funding alongside plans within the clusters for developing CO2 transport and storage infrastructure, suggest progress towards deployment by 2025. 2022 will be a crucial year for CCS as investment decisions will be made for two clusters, HyNet NW and the East Coast Cluster, which have been selected to bid for Track 1 funding under the £1billion government CCS Infrastructure Fund, which is intended to provide the certainty to secure private investment for widescale deployment of CCS.
Decarbonising industry within and beyond the clusters
The industrial clusters host a concentration of high emitting industries and the majority are in locations with access to offshore geological storage sites. Each cluster is unique in terms of its configuration and strategy for decarbonisation, although production of hydrogen features heavily in all cluster plans. Although current policy focus is on six clusters, the significant industrial emissions outside of the clusters cannot be ignored. Developing CCS infrastructure extensive enough to be accessed by multiple emitters is crucial for delivering net zero by enabling decarbonisation across multiple sectors, to provide emissions abatement and greenhouse gas removal. Research undertaken at The University of Manchester, as part of the UK CCS Research Centre and the new Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre, is exploring how the clusters can develop and deploy CCS with a strong social licence to operate (SLO) as part of a “just transition” which is fair and sustainable to a net zero world.
Social Licence to Operate and Just Transitions
Industrial decarbonisation entails a variety of technologies applied across different industries and extends across multiple supply chains. These socio-technical systems involve actors from industrial, regulatory and governance sectors as well as communities living close to, and working within the industrial cluster. Alignment of priorities and a shared understanding of the changes required to deliver net zero will require approaches that are seen as credible solutions and that how they are delivered, managed and regulated is trusted. This is known as a social licence to operate (SLO). Research at The University of Manchester is looking at how the SLO is developing in the clusters and the opportunities for building a strong SLO for industrial decarbonisation. The Research is also focusing on how capability for social and environmental justice for communities and workers can be included within place-based planning.
Importance of common shared infrastructure and economies of scale
If CO2 is to be stored for the long term, emitters require access to transport and storage. Initially this will be developed in the clusters, where the geographical proximity of emitters and access to offshore storage locations offer economies of scale, reducing the initial costs of deployment. In addition to CCS for abatement of CO2, a variety of potential greenhouse gas removal approaches are proposed, some of which depend on access to CCS infrastructure, for example bioenergy with CCS or Direct Air CCS. These provide opportunities for permanent removals with secure storage. Research is modelling the carbon implications of different bioenergy with CCS supply chain locations and feedstocks to understand how infrastructure and resources can be used effectively.
A strategic approach
The transition to net-zero is a challenge that cuts across sectors and energy vectors. Cross-sectoral decarbonisation requires a strategic approach, including prioritising use of hydrogen and biomass in the sectors where it can reduce carbon emissions most effectively. While ambitions for an expanding hydrogen economy grow, there is currently limited hydrogen production in the UK, and current production methods are not low carbon. Each of the industrial clusters include low carbon hydrogen production in their plans. There are multiple challenges and trade-offs to greenhouse gas removal approaches and biophysical and societal limits to scale. Greenhouse gas removal cannot be used to offset unlimited emissions, it needs to be used in tandem with other prioritised approaches to bring emissions closer to zero.
Insight for policymakers
- Developing CCS infrastructure is crucial for delivering net zero, where it can play a role across multiple sectors.
- CCS needs to be part of a strategy to reduce emissions across the whole economy, aligned with the socio-technical configurations of industries to determine what technologies are used and where they are used, including consideration of supply chains, in particular for delivering bioenergy with CCS.
- CCS development should sit alongside detailed strategy for improving efficiency and reducing material consumption in manufacturing and construction.
- Spatially explicit analysis is required to ensure a strategy is appropriate to different contexts, and recognises the importance of emissions along supply chains.
- Reaching net zero by 2050 depends not just on establishing the industrial clusters but ensuring emissions outside the clusters are included in the strategy.
- It is necessary to develop the detail behind the high-level strategy statements and create a concrete plan for delivery, to provide industry confidence in investment and innovation.
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