Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL)


  1.  Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) could have an important role to play as part of the solution to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is as yet a relatively unproven process that would require demonstration of its technical effectiveness, its economic and practical viability and public acceptability.

  2.  Opportunities for CCS to make use of existing infrastructure built to recover the UK's North Sea oil and gas reserves are relatively short-term and it may not be possible to deploy CCS in time to exploit synergies related to using CO2 for Enhanced Oil Recovery.

  3.  CCS is likely to require some form of financial support to make it financially viable. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme could be one mechanism for providing a value to emissions avoidance. However, the current structure of the EU ETS does not provide sufficient certainty to incentivise capital-intensive projects.


  4.  Carbon Capture and Storage could play an important global role in climate change mitigation, particularly in countries such as China or India, where enormous growth in fossil fuel combustion is likely. However, it still needs to be demonstrated that CCS technology can safely sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) and that it can achieve this at an acceptable cost.

  5.  In principle CCS could be used with a wide range of large-scale industrial sources, including fossil-fired power plants. This would require capture of CO2 at source, pressurisation and transport to suitable deep geological structures where it would need to be stored for many thousands of years.

  6.  It is important to note that current technologies only allow for capture of 85%-95% of CO2 emissions from combustion plant.[11] For a coal-fired power station this would mean that between 50,000 to 150,000 tonnes of CO2 would be emitted for each terawatt hour produced.

  7.  The main concerns regarding CCS are:

    —  Demonstration of the technological process.

    —  In the UK, the limited availability of existing North Sea oil and gas infrastructure that could be integrated with CCS.

    —  The environmental sustainability and social acceptability of CCS.

    —  The lack of clarity in national and international policy regarding the value of carbon avoidance as part of climate change policy. Such clarity will be needed to assure the economic viability of CCS and other climate change mitigation options.

    —  The legal obstacles relating to sub-sea disposal of carbon dioxide (a "waste" product) and uncertainty over ongoing long-term legal liability for "ownership" of the carbon dioxide).

  8.  Therefore, whilst CCS could be an important part of the solution to climate change mitigation, it may take at least 10 to 20 years to demonstrate its potential and to be confident over the extent of the role it can play.


  9.  The two main criteria for CCS to be feasible are:

    —  Availability of large CO2 sources and the ability to capture the CO2 emissions.

    —  Availability of suitable CO2 transportation infrastructures linked to the geological storage sites.

  10.  Fixed CO2 source locations in the UK are already well documented as a result of legislation regarding industrial CO2 emission reduction measures. These are primarily the fossil-fuelled electricity generating stations, oil refineries with their neighbouring petrochemical factories, cement production plants, and ammonia synthesis plants.

  11.  Large-scale transportation of CO2 would require an extensive pipework infrastructure, on the same size and scale as that used today for the large-scale natural gas supply network.

  12.  In some cases it is conceivable that the same routes as the natural gas transmission system could be used, especially where these already connect to gas fuelled power stations, these being prime candidates for CCS. However, it is clearly impossible simultaneously to use the same stretch of pipework both to transport gas to a power station, and to transport carbon dioxide away from it. It is therefore unlikely that large sections of the existing natural gas transmission system will become available for CO2 transportation use from clean coal plant until natural gas is no longer used for power production and industrial heating.

  13.  It is also possible that industrial emission sources located at the coast could use gas tankers to transport CO2 to storage sites, which could be depleted offshore oil and gas fields. Potential geological storage features in the UK are known to some extent via the work of the UK Geological Survey. This organisation is further refining its knowledge through being involved in exploring CCS options for specific clean coal projects.

  14.  Both on-shore and offshore CCS options will need to be considered. The following table shows one assessment of potential UK storage options.[12]

UK Capacity (Gt CO2)

Depleted Oil Fields
Depleted Gas Fields
Deep Saline Aquifers—Closed
Deep Saline Aquifers—Open

  15. The order in which these CCS sites would be used would depend primarily on their relative costs. At present these assessments are in their infancy. Note that the least cost option of using the existing offshore oil and gas field infrastructure either for simple gas storage or for Enhanced Oil Recovery will start to diminish after about 2010 as the window of opportunity closes and the facilities begin to be decommissioned.


  16.  CCS could, in the long term, be an enabler for the growth of the "hydrogen economy" whose primary energy sources will include fossil fuels, renewable energy systems and nuclear power.

  17.  However, in the short-term CCS could have a more important role to play in Enhanced Oil Recovery. This could benefit, both in terms of time taken to implement a CCS approach and in terms of economics from having pipeline connections already in place plus available detailed geological information.

  18.  However, once an oil or gas field has been exhausted, there is no incentive to maintain the pipe work infrastructure. Therefore as oil fields increasingly become exhausted there will be pressure to take advantage of the relatively narrow window of opportunity before the pipe work infrastructure begins to degrade, around 2010 in the case of the North Sea.[13]

  19.  It should be noted that linkage between Enhanced Oil Recovery and CCS not only makes CCS more economically attractive, but also makes oil available at a lower cost. Whilst this may have advantages at time of constraints in oil supply it may ultimately lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions.

  20.  The timescale for implementing CCS is determined in part by the following factors:

    —  The economic and commercial drivers arising from CO2 emissions legislation and markets.

    —  The availability or otherwise of industrial CO2 sources suitable for CCS technology.

    —  Fitting of any necessary technology to make such sources suitable for CCS.

    —  Resolution of the legal obstacles and uncertainties

    —  Agreement on planning and other regulatory criteria.

    —  Results from CCS demonstration projects.

  21.  The complete set of technologies and economic conditions necessary for large-scale implementation of the CCS option is unlikely to be in place before 2020. However, there may be good reason to prepare for this by requiring any fossil-fuelled replacement of electricity generation capital stock in the meantime to be suitable for carbon capture to allow a rapid uptake when the conditions are right. In the UK, such replacement for coal-fired plant is likely to be required to be commissioned between 2005 and 2015.


  22.  Current estimates of the economic impact on power generation using Combined Cycle Gas Turbines indicate that in the UK the cost of such power generation could rise by between 1 and 2.3 p/kWh.12

  23.  On this basis the economic case for electricity generation from fossil fuels using CCS would require financial support based on one or more of a range of mechanisms. Such mechanisms could include new mechanisms or modifications to existing measures such as the EU Emission Trading Scheme.

  24.  If emissions trading is the basis of valuing the cost of carbon emissions then, based on the current structure of the EU ETS, there would be uncertainty over long-term emissions allowance prices, and therefore uncertainty over whether CO2 mitigation through CCS would provide acceptable returns commensurate with the capital exposure and consequent risk.

  25.  Whilst the intention in most policy frameworks is to allow market forces to determine the path to CCS, the lack of long-term certainty in the EU ETS is likely to slow the uptake of many options for carbon mitigation.

September 2005

11   IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage Summary for Policymakers. As approved by the 8th Session of IPCC Working Group III, 25 September 2005, Montreal, Canada. Back

12   Review of the Feasibility of Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage in the UK, DTI Report 2004. Back

13   Energy White Paper-Our Energy Future-Creating A Low Carbon Economy, February 2003. Back

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