Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex 2

Memorandum from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

  1.  The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) welcomes the opportunity to comment.

  2.  NERC is one of the UK's eight Research Councils. It funds and carries out impartial scientific research in the sciences of the environment. NERC trains the next generation of independent environmental scientists. Its priority research areas are: Earth's life-support systems, climate change, and sustainable economies.

  3.  NERC's research centres are: the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the British Geological Survey (BGS), the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL). Details of these and of NERC's collaborative centres can be found at

  4.  BGS has provided input direct to the Committee. Its submission accompanies this memorandum. The comments below come from another of NERC's Research Centres, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.


  5.  The inquiry addresses the issue of the technological approach to carbon capture and storage (ie end-of-pipe capture and storage in geological formations). Terrestrial ecology and hydrology do not seem immediately relevant to either of these processes (especially as the geological formations currently being used are mostly under the sea), however it is important that systems are set in place to monitor the environmental impacts of the different processes (including leaks, slow migration and accumulation and induced seismicity). The impact of local elevation of CO2, toxicity of chemicals employed in capture (eg monoethanolamine) and of the infrastructure of capture and transport all need to be considered, although only relatively few locations may be affected.

  6.  The inquiry should recognise that:

    —  CCS is a broader topic than defined above in that it includes the uptake and storage of CO2 by soils, vegetation and oceans, and the need to capture CO2 released from sources other than static industrial or utility plants (eg transport, agriculture, etc.).

    —  There are alternative methods of capture which include the manipulation of existing land management systems (eg wood growth as carbon offsets) or the industrial use of vegetation (eg micro-algae) to produce biomass. Our understanding of these processes is patchy and changing as research is continuing (eg carbon loss from soil in England and Wales reported in Nature September 2005).

    —  The storage of captured carbon is influenced by the method of capture and location of storage; for geological formations gas is usually injected, for oceans either gas or liquefied gas is used. If natural methods of capture are employed then the material produced may be stored in the soil (either through direct capture or addition as charcoal) which is generally considered to be beneficial to both natural and agricultural systems.

  7.  The general concerns for ecology and hydrology of elevated CO2 at a global scale are well documented (greenhouse gas effects), but the local impacts are likely to reflect its acid nature and interaction with other elements. This must be taken into account in impact assessments for any development.

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