Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is possibly making a comeback following competition from low-cost renewables, thanks to the needs of the petrochemical sector.
A plan to pipe CO2 emissions from industries around the Port of Rotterdam and a hydrogen transport hub in the north of England have been branded as “the most exciting in Europe”, although promoters admit both will need substantial government backing to materialise.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Europe is a story of frustrated hopes and disillusions. Originally touted as a must-have low-carbon technology at the start of the century, it suffered setback after setback when EU countries successively pulled support for key demonstration projects, citing costs.
20% of the Netherland’s CO2 emissions are concentrated in the port of Rotterdam. The port’s plan, which could be launched as early as 2020, is to create a CO2 transport hub that will initially be able to serve industrial installations located in the Netherlands. The CO2 collected from highly-polluting plants there would be transported via a pipeline network for injection in depleted oil and gas fields in the North Sea.
The port’s plan fits into a broader Dutch government strategy to reduce CO2 emission by 49% by 2030 – of which 20 megatonnes are expected to come from CCS.
The Port of Rotterdam Authority, said the port explored different pathways to reduce its emissions, which are generated mainly from oil refining, petrochemicals and electricity production. And all of the scenarios it came up with had CCS at their core, he told participants at the roundtable discussion, organised by Fleishman Hillard, a consultancy. If successful, the pipeline network could be extended to serve industrial plants in nearby Belgium, Germany and the UK.
The Port Authority believes the plan is attractive and could even become a flagship project at the European level because it allows decarbonising industries like petrochemicals, for which there is no obvious low-carbon energy alternative.
A second project involves the construction of a new hydrogen pipeline between the Greater Manchester region and Liverpool that promoters say could usher in a new era of hydrogen-fueled vehicles while significantly decarbonising the region’s energy.
“There is an opportunity for an industrial decarbonisation project, from beginning to end,” said Tony Smith, an advisor at Peel group, which helped design the project.
The hydrogen pipeline would serve big industrial facilities, including a refinery owned by oil major Shell and a Peugeot car manufacturing plant, which are big consumers of energy and produce CO2. It would involve transforming methane boilers from factories into hydrogen boilers, which emit no carbon dioxide when burning.
Part of the hydrogen could be reinjected into the existing gas network for use as heating in households, Smith said, pointing to tests showing that up to 20% hydrogen can be safely added to existing gas pipelines, without changes to consumer habits. The remainder could be used to power a fleet of hydrogen cars.
A crucial part of the plan is to ship the CO2 resulting from the production of hydrogen into the depleted Hamilton field in the Irish Sea.
“CCS is critical. It is futile to have a hydrogen-scale project without a carbon capture and storage project,” Smith said.
“Electrification is not the answer to energising Europe,” Smith underlined, saying “there has to be a gas story” to decarbonise energy simply because the gas network in the UK is currently five times bigger
Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), also recently branded CCS a “critical technology” in the fight against climate change, backing the technology as an essential way to decarbonise the gas sector.