Carbon capture could be bigger than oil and gas to Scots economy

SCOTLAND is on the cusp of leading the world in a revolution in energy technology that could massively reduce carbon emissions and transform the economy.

As previously revealed in The Scotsman, a document was unveiled yesterday that showed the North Sea could be used to store unwanted carbon dioxide (Co2) emissions from power stations for at least 200 years.

Academics suggested unwanted emissions from the UK and north west Europe could be safely stored under the North Sea. There could be potential to take up 2,000 years' of Scotland's unwanted Co2, they said.

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The research by Edinburgh University, sponsored by the Scottish Government, could be the blueprint for an industry that may outstrip oil and gas in importance to the future economy – and bring an estimated 10,000 jobs, it was claimed yesterday.

The report found the potential capacity exists to store up to 46,000 million tonnes of Co2 in rocks beneath the Scottish waters of the North Sea.

First Minister Alex Salmond, a long-term supporter of carbon capture storage technology (CCS), hailed the report as "ground-breaking" and a milestone in Scotland's future.

"The development of CCS in Scotland, including power stations and storage networks, has the potential to support 10,000 jobs," he said.

Mr Salmond said that Scotland is well placed to lead the world in the technology because of its geological assets – mainly former oil and gas fields and an abundance of porous rock, known as saline aquifer.

He added that Scotland was helped by its expertise from the oil industry, detailed knowledge of the North Sea and collection of experts in the field.

He said: "Scotland can be a world leader in this technology of the future."

Malcolm Ricketts, principal carbon analyst at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, said the report showed Scotland has a huge commercial potential in carbon capture.

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"This has the opportunity to create a new offshore industry, with Scotland benefiting in terms of knowledge and skills," he said.

"The key is to position the first trials on power plants, which will help to develop a pipeline infrastructure for future CCS developments."

However, a warning note was struck by some environmentalists that CCS – also known as "clean coal" – is an unproven technology outside the laboratory at industrial levels and could have a negative environmental impact.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: "The First Minister proudly claims that 'Scotland is ready for carbon capture' but he forgets to add that carbon capture isn't ready for us.

"Nowhere does he admit that carbon capture on this scale exists only on the drawing board. It may make an important contribution one day, but it's a disgrace that Scottish ministers have already given their backing to new coal-fired power stations before carbon capture and storage has been demonstrated anywhere in the world."

Liam McArthur, the Liberal Democrats' energy spokesman, warned: "It remains that the best kind of emission is no emission at all. Ministers must ensure that whatever potential Scotland has for developing carbon capture does not come at the expense of investment in clean, green, renewable energy."

Other groups welcomed Mr Salmond's statement yesterday. Friends of the Earth Scotland and the World Wildlife Fund in Scotland both welcomed the report as a major development in tackling a future environmental disaster.

Duncan McLaren, Friends of the Earth Scotland's chief executive, said: "The First Minister has today taken an important step forward in heralding a move away from unabated coal power by supporting technology to capture emissions."

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But he went on to remind Mr Salmond that carbon capture is "only half the equation" and appealed to the Scottish Government not to allow any new coal-powered stations which do not include CCS technology.

And he endorsed ScottishPower's bid to have the first industrial experimental site for carbon capture at Longannet power station in Fife.

If successful in a UK government competition, ScottishPower believes it can be up and running by 2014, and that the technology they develop could then be attached to the 50,000 fossil fuel power stations around the world.

Frank Mitchell, generation director at ScottishPower, said this development in itself could make Scotland the centre of excellence for the technology around the world.

Next stage – power firms fight it out for funding

THE next step in the development of technology to capture and store carbon dioxide will be the result of a UK government competition for funding.

Four power companies are competing for about 1 billion to pay for carbon capture projects they hope to build in the UK.

ScottishPower is believed to be a front-runner with its plans to fit carbon capture technology at Longannet Power Station in Fife.

Unlike its main rivals, ScottishPower would not need to build a new power station but would fit the technology to the existing plant.

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ScottishPower thinks that the project can be up and running by 2014 and hopes to start using the capacity within the North Sea to store the waste .

It is important that the technology is proven and working by about 2025 or many coal-powered stations could have to close under EU pollution rules.

The academics and companies behind carbon-capture research in Scotland want further evaluation of storage in the North Sea and government money for R&D.

Although some infrastructure is in place, in the form of pipes which transported oil and gas from the North Sea, more will need to be built at a cost of around 700 million to 1.67 billion.

Analysis - Professor Stuart Haszeldine

Country with technology and skills to cope with Co2

ELECTRICITY, cheaply and readily available, is at the core of our lives. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, this is now taken for granted.

Coal and gas have to be burned to produce more than 75 per cent of that electricity in the UK – easy, quick, but very polluting of the world's atmosphere and oceans. The carbon dioxide (Co2) created has to go.

The UK is the first country to make Co2 reduction legally binding on a government, and last week became the first to require new coal power plant to fit carbon capture equipment.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) buys time. It allows industrial countries to carry on burning fossil fuels in a much cleaner way.

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Scotland can justifiably claim world-class advantages. Firstly, the capture equipment has to be designed and built – Doosan Babcock has its world research base at Renfrew, and plans to provide 10 per cent of new coal plant worldwide.

A willing and adaptable power industry is needed to build, and learn to operate, the massive capture equipment. This can clean up existing power plant (as with Longannet and ScottishPower), or can be applied to newly built power plant (potentially at Peterhead with Scottish & Southern, or at Hunterston with RWE).

High quality pipelines are required onshore and offshore, delivering to injection terminals – this expertise is also well established through decades of North Sea work.

Identifying and assessing a storage site, then injecting the , uses the skills and expertise of hydrocarbon companies; monitoring the stored during and after operations is the business of geophysical contractors.

The Scottish government expects the creation of 10,000 new high-tech green jobs when CCS becomes standard practice. Many of these will use existing onshore and offshore skills and extend them.

Unique natural assets for Scotland are the storage sites. A power plant can be re-built, or the can be transported, but the huge volumes of rock to act as stores are fixed.

Our research shows clearly that Scotland has hundreds, probably thousands, of years of storage capacity for its own needs – enough capacity to offer storage to both England and north-west Europe.

Will this be safe? There is every reason is will be; there are dozens of large natural accumulations of worldwide, some in the North Sea, which have stored for tens of millions of years.

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The geological requirements are well understood. Any storage site will have to go through a rigorous licensing procedure, rather like for oil and gas exploration and production.

The UK is very good at this, we have already produced our regulations in law, ready to go. Monitoring of a storage site is explicitly required, both during injection and for many years after site closure.

• Stuart Haszeldine is professor of sedimentary geology at the University of Edinburgh.