Clean Growth: Technologies for meeting the UK’s emissions reduction targets Contents

8Carbon capture and storage

235.In addition to minimising the extent of global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions—by reducing demand for carbon-intensive processes or by making those processes less carbon intensive—technologies can also be used to directly capture carbon dioxide, either at the point of emission from an industrial process or from the ambient atmosphere. Depending upon the technique used, this can significantly reduce overall emissions or even deliver a net reduction in the quantity of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. This Chapter examines some of these techniques and what the Government should be doing to provide the appropriate level of support for their development and deployment.

Carbon capture, usage and storage

236.Carbon capture and storage (CCS) entails collecting the carbon dioxide released during a process and storing it so that it is not released into the atmosphere. CCS could, for example, significantly reduce or potentially eliminate emissions from a range of processes including power generation, hydrogen production or industrial processing.807 Carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) is a related term incorporating the possible use of captured carbon dioxide, for example as an ingredient for construction materials or to produce biofuels.808 The Carbon Capture and Storage Association warned us, however, that carbon usage has “limited potential for climate mitigation due to the limited overall volumes of CO2 that can be utilised”.809

237.The Committee on Climate Change has stressed “the importance of carbon capture and storage to achieving the current 2050 target at lowest cost and being an enabler of deeper reductions beyond that”.810 In 2014 (prior to the UK strengthening its 2050 emissions reduction targets), the Energy Technologies Institute estimated that the cost of meeting the UK’s then target for 2050 would be around £30bn greater without the use of carbon capture and storage.811 Malcolm Brinded, representing the Royal Academy of Engineering and allied institutions, told us that “CCS is going to be an essential component of any negative emissions strategy for the world to get to 2°C and certainly to 1.5°C”, and that large-scale demonstrations of CCS would provide “an opportunity for the UK to be at the front of that”.812 Several other submissions to our inquiry, including from Energy UK and the Energy Systems Catapult, also described CCS as a key technology for the decarbonisation of multiple sectors, and emphasised the importance of Government support for further development.813

238.In 2018, the Government published an “action plan” for CCUS, stating an overall ambition for the UK to deploy a first CCUS facility in the 2020s and to “have the option to deploy CCUS at scale during the 2030s, subject to the costs coming down sufficiently”.814 The action plan highlighted the £315m ‘Industrial Energy Transformation Fund’ as a potential source of funding for CCUS projects,815 and stated the Government’s intention to:

The Government has since allocated £170m to support the development of the world’s first ‘net-zero carbon’ industrial cluster by 2040, with carbon capture and storage expected to play a prominent role.817

239.Professor Gibbins told us that “if it is carried through”, the Government’s CCUS plan made the large-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage “eminently viable”,818 adding that the Minister had “done an awful lot to accelerate [the deployment of CCS] and make it clear that things need to happen”.819 The Committee on Climate Change welcomed the action plan as a sign of the Government’s “recommitment” to carbon capture and storage, but cautioned that “the Government has not yet proposed concrete approaches to tackle the challenges in deploying CCS in the UK”, noting that “many of these have been well understood for some time and should progress more quickly than proposed in the action plan”.820 The Carbon Capture and Storage Association, representing a variety of companies working on CCS, similarly told us that the “Government’s recognition of the need to develop the first project by the mid-2020s as an enabler towards having the ability to deploy CCUS at scale in the 2030s” was “an important element” of the plan, but highlighted several “limitations and missing aspects” in the plan:

The Carbon Capture and Storage Association consequently told us that “further commitments and early actions from both Government and industry are required to ensure the progression of a pipeline of multiple projects in the near-term”.822

240.The UK Government has already twice run competitions to develop CCS plants, both without success. The first was launched in 2007 and closed in 2011,823 while the second was launched in 2012 and ended in 2015.824 The National Audit Office estimated that the first and second CCS projects cost the Government £64m and £100m respectively prior to their cancellation.825 Professor Gibbins explained that these projects combined carbon capture and storage with coal or gas-fired electricity generation, and failed due to a combination of the recession dampening demand for electricity, shale gas and renewable power developments competing with coal and gas-fired power generation, and insufficient scale.826 He told us that, learning from these previous projects, it was now “important that the Government aim to develop a number of these clusters […] because if you aim to do one it is very easy to end up doing nothing”, whereas “if you get ready to do several, at least one will happen first and, since we need the others anyway, they will follow on”.827 He also highlighted the importance of “open access development” of Government-supported demonstration projects, arguing that learning generated through such projects should be made public rather than commercially protected, so that “commercial readiness and expertise [builds up] more quickly than would normally happen”.828

241.Carbon capture and storage has been widely identified as a key technology for decarbonisation in several sectors. The Energy Technologies Institute estimated, prior to the UK’s net-zero emissions ambition, that meeting the UK’s original 2050 emissions targets without the use of carbon capture and storage would incur an additional £30bn in costs. This puts the Government’s desire for value-for-money in context. We commend the Government for recapturing lost momentum in the development of carbon capture and storage. However, there are concerns that its action plan lacks clarity and ambition.

242.Industry must have clarity on the framework through which it can invest in carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS), as well as the timetable for the Government’s CCUS Action Plan. The Government must provide greater clarity on the details of its action plan, and should set out in its response to this Report: what it considers to be deployment at scale; what constitutes cost-effectiveness or sufficient cost-reduction; how it expects to share costs with industry; and what the major milestones for the plan are, as well as when they are expected to be achieved. The Government should learn from previous carbon capture and storage projects and ensure that a sufficient number of projects, of sufficient scale, are undertaken to optimise the chance of successful deployment, and that the knowledge gained from publicly-funded work is publicly accessible.

A greenhouse gas removal strategy

243.A variety of techniques exist whose overall effect is to reduce the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.829 The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering have set out the major examples of these greenhouse gas removal technologies, as well as the maximum quantity of greenhouse gases they estimated these technologies could plausibly remove in 2050 (reproduced in Table 2).

Table 2: Major greenhouse gas removal techniques


Maximum 2050 greenhouse gas removal capacity (MtCO2)


Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)


Capturing and storing the emissions produced as sustainably sourced biomass (e.g. wood) is burnt to produce energy, to remove the carbon extracted from the atmosphere by the biomass as it grew

Direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS)


Deploying technologies that extract carbon dioxide directly from the air, for example through chemical reactions that convert carbon dioxide into a different chemical



Growing new forests, whose trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow

Enhanced terrestrial weathering


Accelerating the natural decomposition processes of certain minerals that extract carbon dioxide from the air as they decompose, for example by milling the minerals into a fine powder that can be spread over crops

Soil carbon sequestration


Changing land management practices to promote the capture and retention of carbon by soil, for example by using certain crops or fertilisers

Biochar production and use


Converting biomass into ‘biochar’ products such as charcoal can significantly slow the rate at which carbon dioxide is released as it decomposes, as well as improving the fertility of soil it is spread on (which can further enhance carbon dioxide capture)

Habitat restoration


Restoring ecosystems that absorb high quantities of carbon dioxide, such as wetland, peatland or certain coastal habitats

Low-carbon building methods


Using sustainable wood or low-carbon concrete increases the carbon dioxide stored in building materials

Source: Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, ‘Greenhouse Gas Removal’ (2018), pp25–65 and 95–103

Greenhouse gas removal projections

244.The Committee on Climate Change has stated that, even with the deployment of emissions reductions options “towards the maximum limits that are likely to be feasible, acceptable and sustainable”, it expects the UK to emit greenhouse gases with the equivalent warming impact of around 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (130MtCO2e) in 2050.830 In order to meet the Government’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050, this will therefore require the annual removal of 130MtCO2e by 2050. Comparing this quantity with the total estimated greenhouse gas removal capacity of all plausible technologies combined (see Table 2), the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering concluded that the Committee on Climate Change’s estimated removal requirement was “possible, but very challenging”, and would involve “many methods [of greenhouse gas removal] deployed at the limit of their maximum deployment”.831

245.In contrast to these projections, none of the Government’s three “illustrative” pathways to meeting the UK’s existing 2050 emissions reduction target involves any more than 20MtCO2 removal (despite one being labelled the “emissions removal” pathway).832 Dr Naomi Vaughan, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, highlighted that the Government’s new target of net-zero emissions by 2050 would make greenhouse gas removal “even more necessary” given the difficulty of eliminating emissions from certain processes in aviation, agriculture and industry.833

246.Reviewing the technological readiness of greenhouse gas removal technologies, the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering reported that “some greenhouse gas removal methods are already in use today, while others require significant development and demonstration before they can remove emissions at scale”, but qualified that “when considered at the scale required, none of the methods have been fully evaluated across their life cycle”.834 In order to meet the scale of removal necessary for 2050, Dr Naomi Vaughan, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, told us that most of these technologies would need to start being deployed during the 2030s in order to contribute fully to the greenhouse gas removal required by 2050.835 Professor Gideon Henderson, representing the Royal Society, said that the technologies could be broadly broken down into three categories of readiness:

He warned that there was an “urgent need to do research and development” on the second category of technologies, because it “would take some time, in order for us then to be able to roll them out to achieve net zero in 2050”, while Professor Jonathan Gibbins, Director of the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre, told us that technologies requiring carbon capture and storage needed to start being deployed at scale “very quickly”.837

Frameworks for the deployment of greenhouse gas removal technologies

247.Professor Henderson flagged that technological readiness would not be the only consideration relevant to the deployment of greenhouse gas removal technologies.838 For example, Professor Jim Skea, of Imperial College London, highlighted that “transmitting a carbon price in some form is absolutely essential” because “people need to be rewarded” if they are to deploy greenhouse gas removal technologies.839 Professor Henderson told us that there were a range of ways to incentivise the deployment of greenhouse gas removal technologies, including direct payments, tax credits or obligations on certain stakeholders.840 In addition to requiring a system for incentivising or mandating greenhouse gas removal, he indicated that it would also probably be necessary to determine a price associated with emissions:

Normally, the way in which we judge whether [greenhouse gas removal technologies] are worthwhile is to look at what you might call the social cost of carbon. You work out how much you think a tonne of CO2 in the atmosphere is doing damage to the planet and societies, value that and then work out whether the cost of your technologies to remove the carbon dioxide is lower than that social cost of carbon. The Stern-Stiglitz report, for instance, values the social cost of carbon currently at something like US$30 per tonne of CO2, with that escalating into the future. It rapidly gets to $50 and $100.841

Professor Gibbins argued that “a better measure of cost is what it would cost to get carbon neutrality by other means”, saying that net-zero emissions would have to be achieved one way or another.842

248.As well as a framework for determining a suitable incentive or requirement for greenhouse gas removal, Professor Skea said that “one of the prerequisites would be better measurement and estimate of emissions [removals]” achieved by deployments of such technologies, explaining that “you need to be able to measure it, so that you can reward it properly”.843 Professor Henderson noted that a framework for greenhouse gas removal would require systems for reporting and verification as well as measuring and monitoring.844 Dr Vaughan further noted that different frameworks would probably be required for technologies related to land management, which typically involve large numbers of landowners and farmers, compared to those that require significant infrastructure, which might involve networks of industries.845

249.Dr Vaughan also highlighted the wider environmental impacts of different greenhouse gas removal technologies.846 In particular, she emphasised that “it is essential that […] bioenergy is sustainably sourced”:

You could have biomass energy with carbon capture with storage of a megaton of CO2 underground, but the net effect is not to remove anything if you get wrong how you get that bioenergy. If you deforest a primary rain forest or interfere with a high-carbon ecosystem, you can make all that effort but the planet will see no benefit.847

Dr Vaughan said that the governance and regulation of bioenergy was therefore critical, and would have to be assured for international imports as well as domestic produce. Beyond the importance of ensuring that bioenergy with carbon capture and storage yields net greenhouse gas removal, Professor Henderson told us that “in many cases we do not really know the environmental impact” of greenhouse gas removal technologies, which could relate to impacts on biodiversity, environmental toxicity or food security, and that this was “another reason why doing things at field scale and demonstrating them is really important to see how the impact plays out”.848

The Government’s support for greenhouse gas removal

250.In its Clean Growth Strategy, the Government stated that its “strategic approach to greenhouse gas removal” had two main elements:

The research and development programme received £8.6m of funding over four years until 2021.850 Professor Henderson told us that although the UK’s greenhouse gas removal research programme was “the first of its type internationally”, “there is an urgent need for more”, in particular for demonstration trials and lifecycle assessment.851 Professor Skea agreed that “what is needed is a real demonstration to the commercial sector”.852 Discussing direct air carbon capture and storage and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage specifically, UK Research and Innovation—the body responsible for overseeing the Government’s research and innovation programme—told us that “with some notable exceptions […] more needs to be done to demonstrate the potential of these technologies”.853

251.Regarding the Government’s consideration of the barriers and incentives for greenhouse gas removal technologies, the Government recently said that it “has no current policies to deploy specific greenhouse gas removal technologies beyond existing commitments made in the Clean Growth Strategy to plant 11 million trees in England, to restore peatland, and to increase the amount of UK timber used in construction”.854 Professor Henderson told us, however, that as far as he knew, “currently there are very few, if any, approaches in the UK that financially incentivise removal of CO2”:

In fact, many of the greenhouse gas removal technologies are not formally factored into global carbon accounting at the moment. Forestation is an exception. Most other technologies are not factored in.855

Dr Vaughan highlighted that the Government was not meeting its targets for forestation, and that there was “a basket of things that we can do now”, including coastal habitat restoration as well as a greater level of forestation and peatland restoration.856 Professor Skea added that land management practices could also contribute to greenhouse gas removal already, and noted that he had had “many complaints from the National Farmers Union that farmers are punished for their livestock emissions, but not rewarded for the way in which they manage the land and the soil”.857 Professor Henderson flagged that the Government had recognised the potential for an improved incentives framework for land use management in its 25-year environment plan, and that this would “probably be recognised in the Environment Bill”.858 The ‘25 Year Plan’ did state the Government’s intention to work with stakeholders to design a new woodland creation grant scheme to “incentivise larger scale afforestation to meet carbon goals and wider environmental benefits at a landscape scale”.859 However, the draft Environment Bill does not reference forestation, and the draft Agriculture Bill includes powers for the Secretary of State to “give financial assistance for or in connection with the purpose of starting, or improving the productivity of, an agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity” but only in the context of improving the quality of forestry products or the resource efficiency of these activities.860

252.The Government’s new ambition, to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, will probably require the active removal of at least 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually by 2050. This is significantly greater than the extent of greenhouse gas removal envisioned in any of the Government’s previous ‘illustrative pathways’ to meeting its original 2050 target, and is also at the limit of what is expected to be reasonably deliverable. The Government should plan for the deployment of greenhouse gas removal technologies capable of removing around 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050. It should develop and publish, within six months of this Report’s publication, an illustrative pathway detailing the full extent of greenhouse gas removal that it projects to be possible from each major technology option by 2050, as well as a strategy for ensuring this pathway is feasible, including any policy decisions required now.

253.The Government should launch a consultation to inform the development of a future framework for managing and incentivising greenhouse gas removal, and to provide greater certainty to encourage private investment in the development of these technologies. The consultation should examine potential frameworks for valuing, incentivising, measuring, reporting and validating greenhouse gas removal by different technologies.

254.The step-change in greenhouse gas removal required by the Government’s new ambition to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 will require a significant increase in current support for greenhouse gas removal technologies. Some urgently require research and development, whereas others could be deployed at scale now with the correct support. In line with its future strategy for greenhouse gas removal, the Government should be ready to increase funding for research, development and demonstration of greenhouse gas removal technologies. It must also ensure that it is seizing currently available opportunities for greenhouse gas removal, and should develop an effective framework for managing and incentivising forestation and land use management to achieve net emissions removals.


255.In addition to technologies for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, there are some proposed technologies that could potentially control global warming in other ways. The main technologies aim to do this by managing the solar radiation entering the Earth’s atmosphere and striking its surface, for example by:

256.Dr Naomi Vaughan, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, told us that “modelling studies have shown that some [solar radiation management] technologies could lower the temperature”, but said that this would only last as long as the intervention was maintained, and would not address the underlying problem of excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.862 Professor Gideon Henderson, representing the Royal Society, further warned that “the cooling is also not uniform, so radiation management would not lead to the same cooling level across the world; you would get patchiness and, therefore, different countries would benefit differently”.863

257.Professor Gibbins agreed that “solar radiation management is a very dangerous thing to do”, but noted that “globally there would be a strong incentive to do it if it seemed like the alternatives were worse—for example, destabilisation of the Greenland ice cap or uncontrolled release of methane from thawing permafrost”.864 He argued that it was “very much in the UK’s interest to research solar radiation management to show how dangerous it is and all the effects you will get:

It does not reverse CO2 emissions, but, bearing in mind that we may face suggestions to use it even within our lifetime, we need to be prepared. Wilfully closing our eyes to studying it because it is very unattractive and dangerous is not a responsible attitude.865

Professor Jim Skea, of Imperial College London, told us that his personal opinion was that “it would be worthwhile doing desk studies of solar radiation management”, but that he would be “far less convinced of the case for doing demonstration”.866 Professor Henderson similarly told us that he thought that the “dominant research spending should be on greenhouse gas removal” compared to solar radiation management.867

258.Solar radiation management does not address the fundamental problem of excess concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, and does not appear to be a long-term solution to global warming. Nevertheless, it may be considered as a short-term solution if global greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced quickly enough to avoid significant global warming. In this scenario, detailed understanding of the wider effects of solar radiation management will be vital. UK Research and Innovation should review the current state of research into solar radiation management, the likely timeframes that would be required for detailed research and potential testing of such technologies, and the case for any increased research now. It should ensure that research into solar radiation management is sufficient to allow for any potential future decisions to be made on the deployment of such technology to be sufficiently well-informed.

807 Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage (CGE0021), section 3

808 Global CCS Institute, ‘The Global Status of CCS: 2017’ (2017), p9

809 Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CGE0023), para 6

810 Committee on Climate Change, ‘Reducing UK emissions: 2018 Progress Report to Parliament’ (2018), pp44–45

811 Energy Technologies Institute, ‘Carbon Capture and Storage: Potential for CCS in the UK’ (2014), p23

813 For example, see: Cadent (CGE0015), para 3; Energy UK (CGE0024), paras 19–22; Drax Group plc (CGE0025), paras 36–38; Energy Systems Catapult (CGE0029), para 5; Decarbonised Gas Alliance (CGE0032), para 25; The Geological Society (CGE0051), paras 7–9

815 HM Government, ‘The UK Carbon Capture Usage and Storage deployment pathway: An Action Plan’ (2018), p33—see also: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, ‘Designing the Industrial Energy Transformational Fund’ (2019)

817World-first carbon ‘net-zero’ hub of heavy industry to help UK seize global economic opportunities of clean growth’, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, accessed 4 July 2019

820CCC welcomes Government’s recommitment to Carbon Capture and Storage technology’, Committee on Climate Change, accessed 4 July 2019

821 Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CGE0079), paras 4–9

822 Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CGE0079), para 8

823Longannet carbon capture scheme scrapped’, BBC News, 19 October 2011

824UK government carbon capture £1bn grant dropped’, BBC News, 25 November 2015

829 ‘Negative Emissions Technologies’, POSTnote 447, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, October 2013

830 Committee on Climate Change, ‘UK Climate Action following the Paris Agreement’ (2016), pp35–39

831 Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, ‘Greenhouse Gas Removal’ (2018), p9

832 HM Government, ‘The Clean Growth Strategy’ (2017), pp151–152

834 Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, ‘Greenhouse Gas Removal’ (2018), p8

849 HM Government, ‘The Clean Growth Strategy’ (2017), p57

850£8.6 million UK research programme on greenhouse gas removal’, Natural Environment Research Council, accessed 20 June 2019 and PQ HL15075, 16 April 2019

853 UK Research and Innovation (CGE0058), para 7

857 Qq376 and 387

859 HM Government, ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’ (2018), pp49–50

861Explainer: Six ideas to limit global warming with solar geoengineering’, Carbon Brief, accessed 4 July 2019

Published: 22 August 2019