EU funded CCS technology looks set to start revolutionising our energy infrastructure
The ‘White Rose Carbon Capture and Storage Project’ is likely to receive a £250m investment from The European Commission.
The ambitious project looks to take waste gas produced from a new coal-fired power station and store it under the sea. It is believed CCS will have a integral part in the reducing our future CO2 emissions.
The White Rose CCS project is the only eligible plan that has been presented this year so far. In 2012 no money was granted to any projects as they were all unsuitable, so the standards for acceptance are extremely high.
It is important to note, CCS isn’t a form of energy generation (not directly, but we’ll get into that later) and it isn’t a renewable energy source, its damage limitation. CO2 that otherwise would be released into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels (like coal), is captured and stored underground as a gas in deep geological formations like saline formations or exhausted gas fields. It can also be stored solidly by reacting it with metal oxides to produce stable carbonates (which look a bit like salt).
A new coal-fired power plant will be built near the current Drax station in Yorkshire, which is in the process of being transformed from a coal plant to biomass.
The White Rose facility is expected to provide electricity for over 630,000 UK homes, with 90% of its CO2 emissions captured and transported via pipeline to below the North Sea. This equates to 2 million tonnes every year.
The Carbon Capture and Storage industry has seen a large boom over the last few years as technological advances have pushed the field forward. It could be a massive benefit for the UK which will struggle to hit its EU target to reduce carbon emissions by 80% (from 1990 levels) by 2050 if fracking becomes a part of the UK energy generation mix.
Carbon Capture and Fracking
Recently, fracking has been under fire, it is possible however that by utilising CCS in new and innovative ways it could become a much more valuable endeavour for the UK.
Currently the process involves pumping a mixture of highly pressurised water and chemicals into porous rock underground, this causes the rock to fracture and release shale gas which we can then use as an energy source.
The hydraulic fracturing of the rock is generally on a two dimensional plane, in other words fractures extend horizontally from the point where the process begins. A study has found however, when compressed CO2 is used instead the fractures occur both horizontally and vertically. This leads to a much greater shale gas yield and thus, makes each fracking well much more effective and viable.
Storing captured CO2 in the fractured shale rock also eliminates the need to pump the waste-water back out. This means there will be no potential leakage into nearby groundwater to cause pollution, as well as the potentially reducing the chance of minor earthquakes as the rock would be less likely to shift.
Will it reduce UK energy prices?
Europe, as with many aspects of green energy, has been seen as a leader in CCS technology and infrastructure in the past. This has changed as development costs continued leading to declining investment. It is estimated that by equipping a power plant with carbon capture technology could lead to electricity prices going up by 50-100%.
The EU thought that by providing ‘Carbon Credits’ to companies that reduce their carbon emissions would be an incentive, but the price of carbon fell drastically resulting in a huge decline in CCS progress.
In the US the state of play is completely different. The market for CO2 has grown massively due to it being used in unconventional oil extraction techniques which are becoming more widespread in North America.
Ultimately, Carbon Capture and Storage technology is an investment, for the environment, for our health and for science. Luckily we have establishments like the EU that is willing to invest funds into things that wouldn’t usually be economically viable. If it also gives us the scope to make fracking safer and the consequences of it less unforeseeable, then surely it’s something worth our attention.
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