Select Committee on Science and Technology Fourth Report


Carbon sequestration

108. CO2 sequestration is the process by which CO2, following captured during fossil fuel electricity generation, is transported to a facility for permanent sequestration. In the transition to a non-carbon fuel economy, the process could be used to restrict CO2 emissions. CO2 has few uses and hence sequestration is the only solution for removing it from the atmosphere; however, it can also be used for enhanced oil recovery, in which the CO2 is injected into the reservoir to force oil to the surface. This would maximise oil recovery from the North Sea.[171]

109. Drawbacks to the technology include the cost of the process, its legality and its safety. The DTI is currently undertaking a review of the viability of CO2 sequestration, due out this spring, and the Government says it will consider providing support for a demonstration facility to "kick start" investment or introducing fiscal incentives.[172] The EPSRC plans to spend £67,000 on CO2 sequestration in 2002-03.[173]

110. Shell and BP are members of an international consortium called the CO2 Capture Project.[174] The project, formed in 2000, aims to "to research and develop technologies aimed at reducing the cost of CO2 separation, capture and geologic storage".[175] The US, the EU and Norway provide matching funding. We consider CO2 sequestration to be a necessary part of the transition to a non-carbon fuel economy. Nevertheless, it is important that its use should not act as a disincentive to the elimination of carbon-based fuels.

111. Given the potential of CO2 sequestration in the North Sea, we are surprised that none of the major UK generators is involved in the CO2 Capture Project. Indeed, only one generating company project, Norsk Hydro, is involved, and it has no presence in the North Sea. The UK's input to CO2 sequestration research is modest yet the ERRG report says that "The UK is well-placed to take a lead, because the North Sea offers opportunities to use CO2 for enhancing oil production, while exhausted fields provide possible storage facilities" and identifies it as one of its six priority areas for research.[176] We were encouraged to learn that a Government review "appears to be reaching a very similar conclusion to [the ERRG] on the potential of CO2 sequestration".[177] In January 2003, the DTI commissioned AEA Technology to carry out a major study on CO2 capture and storage in the UK, bringing together power generators, plant manufacturers and oil companies and due to report at the end of April/early May 2003.[178] The White Paper contains a welcome impetus for CO2 sequestration and recognises the potential and urgency of the situation, promising to set up a "detailed implementation plan with the developers, generators and the oil companies to establish what needs to be done to get a demonstration project off the ground".[179] We commend the Government's positive approach to CO2 sequestration. There is a real opportunity in the North Sea with enhanced oil recovery as the initial economic driver. Policy mechanisms are needed to ensure that it happens and that there is an agreement on the legal and environmental issues of CO2 storage.

Clean coal

112. The use of coal for UK electricity generation has declined substantially in recent decades. In 1950 it made up 89.5% of the UK's primary fuel but by 2000 this had declined to 15%.[180] It produces relatively high levels of CO2 in generating electricity and the decline in its use has contributed enormously to the advantageous position of the UK in respect of its Kyoto target. Nevertheless, the UK still has substantial coal reserves and the continued use of coal would do much to address concerns over the security of other fuels, notably gas.[181] As the ERRG report concluded, "Coal could make a considerable contribution to maintaining the UK's energy security".[182] Clean coal technology which involves technologies to improve combustion efficiency or co-firing with other fuels, therefore offers many of the advantages of CO2 sequestration and indeed the technologies complement one another. Coal can also be used as a source of hydrogen fuel, through gasification.[183]

113. The DTI's Cleaner Coal Technology programme provides support for RD&D projects, most of which are concerned with developing greater efficiencies in fuel boilers as well as co-firing coal with other fuels such as biomass and natural gas. The budget for the Cleaner Coal Technology Programme is £21.7 million over three years of which government funding is £8 million.[184] The development of clean coal technology offers significant export opportunities, particularly south east Asia, as the Trade and Industry Committee reported in 1998. The Trade and Industry Committee also noted that without Government support for demonstration projects, these opportunities will not be realised.[185] The Government acknowledged the importance of the technology to India and China but decided not to fund demonstration projects.[186] We note that the US Government is investing $2 billion over 10 years on clean coal technology.[187] The Energy White Paper says the Government will continue to fund clean coal RD&D.[188]

114. The UK's most efficient coal-powered generation plants, at Drax, have an efficiency of 39%, and there are hopes that clean coal technology could improve this to 52%.[189] The Confederation of UK Coal Producers recommends that the Government follow-up the supercritical boiler retrofit project at an existing coal fired power station, as recommended by the DTI.[190] As with CO2 sequestration, we are happy to see clean coal technology pursued, but not at the expense of renewable sources of energy. We believe that the UK should play to its strengths and exploit its natural resources. As such, the continued use of coal has a role in the UK's energy mix provided that CO2 emissions are substantially reduced. We therefore support investment in clean coal technologies, for export as well as UK use, in tandem with CO2 sequestration.

171   Ev 109 Back

172   Ev 109 Back

173   Ev 76 Back

174   The members are BP, ChevronTexaco, Eni, Norsk Hydro, PanCanadian, the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies, Statoil and Suncor Energy. Back

175   Ev 98 Back

176   OST, Report of the Chief Scientific Adviser's Energy Research Review Group, February 2002, paras 51,7 Back

177   As above, para 52 Back

178 Back

179   DTI, Our energy future-creating a low carbon future, Cm 5761, February 2003, para 6.63 Back

180   Performance and Innovation Unit, The Energy Review, February 2002, para 2.4 Back

181   Ev 24 Back

182   OST, Report of the Chief Scientific Adviser's Energy Research Review Group, February 2002, para 49 Back

183   As above, para 58 Back

184   OST, Report of the Chief Scientific Adviser's Energy Research Review Group, February 2002, para 28; Ev 109 Back

185   Fourth Report of the Trade and Industry Committee, Session 1997-98, Coal, HC 404, para 35 Back

186   DTI, Conclusions of The Review of Energy Sources for Power Generation and Government response to fourth and fifth Reports of the Trade and Industry Committee, October 1998, Cm 4071, paras 11.12-11.13  Back

187   National Energy Policy Development Group , Reliable, Affordable, and Environmentally Sound Energy for America's Future, p 5.15 Back

188   DTI, Our energy future-creating a low carbon future, Cm 5761, February 2003, para 1.25 Back

189   Ev 109 Back

190   DTI, Review of the case for government support for cleaner coal technology demonstration plant, December 2001. Back

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