Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Research Councils UK (RCUK)


  1.  Research Councils UK (RCUK) is a strategic partnership that champions the research supported by the eight UK Research Councils. Through RCUK the Research Councils are creating a common framework for research, training and knowledge transfer. Further details are available at

  2.  This memorandum is submitted by Research Councils UK on behalf of two of the Research Councils (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Natural Environment Research Council) and represents our independent views. It does not include or necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Science and Technology (OST). RCUK welcomes the opportunity to respond to this inquiry from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.

  3.  This memorandum provides evidence from RCUK in response to the questions outlined in the inquiry, in addition to supplementary views from each Research Council:

  Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)  Annex 1

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)  Annex 2

4.  The Research Councils recognise the potentially important role that carbon capture and storage might play in contributing to the Government's goal of achieving a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010. The Research Councils believe that investments in research in low-carbon technology, energy efficiency and energy consumption and renewable and sustainable power generation, are indispensable to allow a transition to a low-carbon economy. This investment is also important to achieve the other goals set out in the 2003 Energy White Paper: a reliable energy supply, competitive markets to raise the rate of sustainable economic growth, and to ensure that every home is adequately and affordably heated.

  5.  The Research Councils are the primary Government sponsor of basic, University-based R&D in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology and the more basic research that is required to underpin its exploitation. The Research Councils with significant interests in CCS research include EPSRC, NERC and ESRC; their main foci of interest are as follows:

    —  ESRC: the economic and social dimensions of CCS technology, including public acceptability;

    —  EPSRC: technology for carbon capture and storage, carbon transport and logistics, and management/operational aspects of CCS including whole life costing, carbon footprints etc; and

    —  NERC: Geological and geophysical feasibility of CCS and its potential environmental impacts/benefits; carbon sequestration by soils and vegetation in natural and managed systems.

  6.  NERC and EPSRC are providing individual submissions to the inquiry as annexes one and two respectively.

  7.  NERC, EPSRC and ESRC received additional funding in the 2002 Spending Review to launch the "Towards a Sustainable Energy Economy" Programme (TSEC). This Programme was designed to adopt a multidisciplinary, whole-systems approach to energy research. The earmarked budget for TSEC was £20 million of core funding plus £8 million previously earmarked following the Performance and Innovation Unit Review of Energy R&D in 2001. TSEC is a broad-based programme of research which aims to enable the UK to access a secure, safe, diverse and reliable energy supply at competitive prices, while meeting the challenge of global warming. In the event, in order to support a number of high-quality projects that could not otherwise have been supported, the TSEC budget was augmented to a total of £36.5 million with the additional funding drawn from Research Council baseline funding and from the additional funding for energy announced under the 2004 Spending Review. The TSEC budget was allocated through five funding streams: establishment of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC); Managing Uncertainties; Keeping the Nuclear Option Open; Renewable Energy; and Carbon Management.

  8.  The initial aim of TSEC was the establishment of the £14 million UK Energy Research Centre which is focusing on addressing system-level issues in energy generation, supply and consumption and which will act as the hub of the new National Energy Research Network. EPSRC, NERC and ESRC are funding the UKERC, with EPSRC providing £5.6 million, NERC providing £5.2 million and ESRC providing £3.2 million over an initial five-year period. The main research grant started in October 2004. UKERC is  already forming a focus for networking the UK energy research community and for developing international collaboration. For example, UKERC hosted a workshop on innovation and research for energy within the official programme of events marking the UK presidency of the G8. UKERC's research and networking remit covers demand reduction, future sources of energy and energy infrastructure and supply with energy systems and modelling, materials for advanced energy systems and environmental sustainability as cross-cutting themes. The UKERC, working with the research community and funding stakeholders, will develop a "National Research Atlas". This Atlas will seek to record the consensus on the sequence of research problems to be overcome before new technologies (including more energy efficient technologies) can be commercially viable. Furthermore, it will identify active research and key gaps. UKERC also features a permanent meeting place in Oxford which will host international visitors as well as providing a venue for community meetings.

  9.  An additional £8.5 million from EPSRC has enabled joint funding with NERC, ESRC and BBSRC of research consortia in carbon sequestration (£2.0 million) and biofuels (£2.5 million) which will run for three years and three and a half years respectively. Consortia will be funded later this autumn in public engagement with renewable energy technologies (£0.46 million) which will run for three years, a transition to a sustainable energy economy (£2.1 million) and economic policy analysis and energy consumption (£2.7 million). Both these consortia will run for five years.

  10.  In April 2005 the Research Councils established a new Energy Programme, led by EPSRC. The Energy Programme will expand its total investment in energy research over the SR2004 period from the present level of approximately £40 million per annum in 2005-06 to approximately £70 million per annum in 2007-08. Much of the increased expenditure is expected to be in the engineering and technology research areas supported by EPSRC, but will also encompass the range of energy research issues including socio-economic, environmental and biological that will be developed in conjunction with other Research Councils.

  11. Working with the DTI, EPSRC is organising an Energy Research Summit launch, to be held in November 2005. This will launch the expanded Research Councils' Energy Programme and provide the starting point to develop better strategic engagement on research and training priorities with energy-related business. Participants will be asked to identify common business-led research or postgraduate training opportunities which will then be worked up in more detail, culminating in a second Energy Research Summit in spring 2006.


The viability of CCS as a carbon abatement technology for the UK, in terms of:

The current state of R&D in, and deployment of, CCS technologies

  12.  NERC and EPSRC have a significant research portfolio in CCS R&D—total expenditure in the area in 2004-05 was approximately £390k (£350k NERC, £40k EPSRC). Expenditure in future is expected to be significantly higher, in part due to the announcement of a major research Consortium on CCS technology earlier this year under the Carbon Management funding stream of the TSEC programme. The project is led by Imperial College London, involves a total of 14 partners, and has a total value of £2 million. The objectives of the project and a full list of project partners are included for information as Annex 3. The Consortium will build on the UK's current strengths in CCS R&D, based in part on the UK's traditional strengths in geological science and in the development of technology for the Oil and Gas industries.

  13.  NERC, through the British Geological Survey, is involved in research on the deployment of CCS technology. Further information on BGS's role in CCS deployment R&D is provided in its own submission which accompanies this memorandum.

  14.  The Research Councils, through RCUK collectively and individually, have good relationships with the key Government Departments with responsibilities relevant to CCS technology—the Department of Trade and Industry for CCS technology R&D, and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for environmental and regulatory issues relating to the deployment of CCS. The recently published DTI Carbon Abatement Strategy may be one of a number of inputs into the ongoing discussion between DTI and the research councils on potential partnership working through the Technology Programme on low-carbon technology.

Projected timescales for producing market-ready, scalable technologies, Cost, Geophysical feasibility, and other Obstacles and constraints

  15.  The report of the 2003 DTI-sponsored review of CCS technology in the USA and Canada concluded that there were no major technical barriers to the exploitation of CCS technology in the UK although the report did highlight the importance of addressing the issue of public acceptability. There is, however, evidence to suggest that further basic research is required across the spectrum of the CCS process, from capture through transport and distribution to storage, including the important issue of geophysical feasibility. Research is also needed into the viability of the technology from a commercial perspective which will depend on a number of factors, not least the economics of the supply chain including the tradable value of CO2.

  16.  With regard to the specific issues of timescales for producing market-ready technology and other obstacles and constraints, it would be inappropriate for RCUK collectively to comment in detail on these issues, although individual Research Councils may provide comments in these areas. RCUK recognises that the opportunity to exploit CCS technology in the North Sea may be time-limited and will work with DTI to ensure that the future funding priorities are determined taking this, and other important contextual information, into account. The Energy Research Summit planned for November will provide an excellent opportunity to explore such issues.

The UK Government's role in funding CCS R&D, and in providing incentives for technology transfer and industrial R&D in CCS technology

  17.  The Research Councils are required under their mission statements to support basic, strategic and applied research, and related postgraduate training, in their respective remits. It is also the responsibility of the research councils to support and encourage a healthy research base, and to ensure effective people and knowledge transfer from the research base to industry. A large number of research disciplines underpin the development and deployment of CCS technology although probably the most significant are geology, geoscience and earth science and chemical/process engineering.

  18.  The Research Councils dedicate a significant proportion of their funding to promote the health and sustainability of the UK research base. As the detailed evidence from NERC and EPSRC demonstrates, this funding has been very important in ensuring that the UK is well positioned to compete internationally in CCS R&D. The Research Councils will continue to sponsor research in all areas of CCS technology and its applications that builds on and complements our previous and current research investments, subject to the normal requirements of research quality, relevance and timeliness.

September 2005

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