Carbon capture offers bright future for Scotland - Phil Kirk

Glasgow’s hosting of COP 26 will make the city synonymous, like Paris, with the battle against climate change. Representatives from 200 countries will meet to discuss and hopefully agree coordinated action to cut global carbon emissions to levels that will combat climate change. The conversations may be difficult; world leaders have set the 2050 net zero target. Now they must swiftly adopt and work out how to pay for the technologies to deliver decarbonisation.

In a still energy-hungry world, that challenge is daunting: how shall we cut CO2 emissions? How do we avoid socioeconomic chaos, and offer economic opportunity, without the cheap abundant energy that hydrocarbons have provided for a century? Although renewables will play a huge role, they cannot in the short term satisfy the energy needs of heavy industry, nor power at scale and speed the so-called “hard-to-abate” sectors like steel, cement, heavy engineering and transportation.

At Glasgow, there needs to be recognition that radically reducing atmospheric carbon requires a diversity of energy technologies. One, carbon capture & storage (CCS), is on the brink of industrial scale deployment. Excitingly, Scotland is a leader in this break-through, and it’s our skills-base in the North-East that will enable it. Carbon capture will allow heavy industry and power generation, to continue to use hydrocarbons, but with the harmful emissions trapped, permanently. Over time, carbon capture facilities will also provide a platform to manufacture hydrogen, the carbon-free fuel of our future. Of course, it will cost, and it needs to be done quickly and fairly. But with smart policies and appropriate targeted government support - like the UK government’s £1 billion pledge to accelerate CCS – we can accelerate decarbonisation of the energy system.

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Together with our partners Storegga, and Shell, Harbour Energy is working on the Acorn CCS project to capture CO2 from Scottish industrial sites, including the St Fergus gas terminal. Utilising existing pipeline infrastructure from Scotland’s oil and gas industry, Acorn will store the CO2 safely and permanently in deep secure rock formations beneath the North Sea. Acorn, which has been put forward for UK government support, can be quickly scaled to meet demand. By 2030 it could store half the CO2, or more, identified in the UK government’s Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution. In the future, Acorn will also be vital to accelerating low-carbon hydrogen in Scotland. Some of Harbour Energy’s fields produce gas into the St Fergus terminal and in the future, we would like to either be selling our gas to facilities that capture the carbon or produce hydrogen creating a new carbon-free fuel for Scotland.

Globally, CCS can help the world meet its climate ambitions; locally it is vital if Scotland is to reach its ambitious target of net zero by 2045. Other technologies will emerge, but right now, only CCS can deliver deep emissions reductions for vital industries such as cement, steel and fertilisers, and maintain a high employment manufacturing base in Scotland. In essence CCUS is central to the “just transition” we want for Scotland: letting the existing energy industry transform itself, re-purposing its existing skills and resources, to serve us all and protect Scottish jobs and industry. We look forward to Acorn being a green industrial hub, attracting new businesses to its zero-carbon energy source and being the cradle of hydrogen technologies.

Phil Kirk is Group President and CEO Europe for Harbour Energy. Harbour Energy is also lead developer in the V-Net Zero Cluster in Humberside. Phil is writing in support of the Back the Scottish Cluster campaign, pressing the case for the Scottish Cluster in the BEIS cluster sequencing process.

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