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expert reaction to axing of £1bn carbon capture and storage (CCS) scheme

It has been announced in the spending review and autumn statement that a £1 billion competition for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology has been cancelled.


Prof. Geoffrey Maitland FREng FIChemE, Professor of Energy Engineering at Imperial College London, said:

“The news that the budget for the UK CCS competition has been removed in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement is extremely bad news for the UK and our ability to decarbonise our energy system.  This is particularly disappointing coming as it does only days before governments meet in Paris for the COP21 conference to agree global targets and initiatives to try to keep greenhouse gas emissions below levels that will lead to catastrophic climate change.

“Despite moving as quickly as possible to renewables and nuclear (which now seems to be the government’s preferred option despite the very long build times), we will continue to need fossil fuels to meet demand for decades to come. As Amber Rudd’s recent speech indicated, this has to be done by reducing carbon emissions at the same time.  Phasing out coal completely is unrealistic if we are to meet base-load requirements and keep the lights on, so CCS is essential to effectively eliminate CO2 emissions from these plants. A rapid increase in gas-fired power stations will reduce  CO2 emissions by up to 50% but these will still need CCS in order to meet emissions targets.

“Several studies have shown that CCS is the cheapest route in the short term to decarbonising our baseload electricity system but the cost goes up rapidly the longer we delay.  Cutting the funding to establish CCS commercially now is false economy.  Besides, with the £1bn competition the UK has been leading the world in development of CCS for both coal and particularly gas-fired power plants, with the economic potential of CCS in the UK for both jobs and technology export being estimated to be over £30bn by 2030.

“As we try to stimulate manufacturing industry in the UK, CCS provides the only realistic way to decarbonise this very important sector for the UK economy. So overall today’s decision is very short-sighted and will cost the country far more in the long-term than the relatively small short-term savings.

“To cut this competition is a ludicrous decision!”


Prof. Peter Styring, Director of the UK Centre for Carbon Dioxide Utilization at the University of Sheffield, said:

“This came completely out of the blue. The timing was strange given that COP21 starts in a couple of days.

“However, it is not completely surprising given a similar pattern for CCS across Europe. The problem has always been that CCS treats CO2 as a waste that needs disposal and waste treatment incurs a cost. We have been working for a long time on Carbon Dioxide Utilisation (CDU) through the EPSRC Grand Challenge Network CO2Chem ( of which I am Director. The basis of CDU is that CO2 is treated as a commodity, a single carbon feedstock. This ultimately leads to a commercial product that will yield a profit. Sunfire and Covestro (formerly Bayer Materials Science) are both using CO2 to produce synthetic diesel and polyurethane foams respectively. CRI in Iceland is producing methanol at profit. Urea has for a long time been a sink for CO2. At Sheffield we are taking that one step further by making urea from CO2 and renewable hydrogen, with no fossil-derived chemicals at all.

“What is clear is that while the S has gone from CCS we will still need the CC in order to produce pure feeds of CO2. So there is hope, and uniquely profit, at the end of the tunnel.”



Miles Seaman, Sustainability Subject Group at the Institution of Chemical Engineers, said:

“The audacity of this decision is breathtaking. It underscores the lie which has been put about by ministers and civil servants for the last several years that the UK is a world leader in CCS.

“End of pipe solutions to this sort of pollution is not likely to work on the required scale so perhaps the government have decided that they shouldn’t be trying to pick winners. Already some commentators see CCS as a dead duck.”


Prof. Stuart Haszeldine, Director of Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage (SCCS), said:

“It has now become clear that announcements made by Chancellor George Osborne regarding energy innovation and support for low-carbon electricity were economical with the facts about support for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in the UK.

“A focus on CCS research and development is not enough to deploy this essential climate change technology – project developers and others in the CCS community are united in their stance that large-scale projects are needed on the ground.  Multiple analyses have demonstrated that this is a feasible and cost-effective method to decarbonise not just UK electricity, but also heat and industry, whilst driving improved efficiency.

“The UK Government’s reliance on nuclear power to deliver our future electricity needs depends entirely on whether projects such as Hinkley Point can actually be delivered on time. All of the current three versions of this power plant under construction globally are taking double the anticipated timescales at treble the anticipated price.  Small modular nuclear power, although promising, remains entirely unproven in a commercial supply setting. If new nuclear cannot be delivered at scale and on time, the UK runs the future risk, as of today, of becoming a distressed buyer of rapidly built gas power plant, which locks in UK carbon emissions for the next 40 years. To me, this does not look like prudent management.

“The new electricity supply landscape proposed by the Government, but a long way from being delivered, means all low-carbon electricity providers should be bidding into the supply market under equal terms. This means that low-carbon renewable providers must provide reliable ‘ firm’ power delivery and that CCS projects should receive the multiple underwriting and favourable contract benefits gifted to Hinkley and its successors. CCS can deliver this and it would be perverse to prevent it from doing so.”


Prof. Jim Watson, Director of the UK Energy Research Centre, said:

“This is the latest in a long line of setbacks to plans to demonstrate CCS in the UK which were originally agreed almost a decade ago. Unless the government has alternative plans for supporting CCS, this effectively means that they are hoping that the costs of demonstration and commercialisation will be met by other countries.

“The cancellation also leads to questions about the compatibility of recent energy policy announcements with the UK’s legislated climate change targets. Without CCS available, the government’s plans to use gas as a ‘bridge’ to a low carbon future will have much more limited mileage in the medium term.”


Declared interests

None declared

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