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Has lazy, weak government killed off carbon capture?

burn.jpgIncoherence and timidity are terms not often levelled at the government. Well, alright, incoherence is levelled at the government every day, countless times a day, but timidity? Not so much. Gordon Brown, texture like sun, never struck Greenbang as the timid type.

But these two sterling adjectives are being applied to HM government by think tank Policy Exchange as the two main reasons why carbon capture and storage isn’t bigger on Blighty’s shores.

Policy Exchange reckons a competition set up by the government for businesses to create a demonstration of carbon capture and storage has actually ballsed things up a bit.

Here’s why, according to Policy Exchange:

There are several astonishing features to this competition. We believe these will make developing a competitive UK based CCS industry extremely difficult indeed.

• The cost has no upper limit, and can be driven up by rises of materials costs worldwide.
• There is no coherent development of a supply chain to create CCS skills and expertise in UK industries.
This is concerning, as past lessons from nuclear, onshore wind suggest that the UK can easily under-invest in the supply chain, so that a new industry goes abroad.
• There is no strategy to create a UK skill base in advance of CCS being required of several companies already licensed with “Capture Ready” gas plant
• The most concerning feature of all, however, is the fact that there is only one technology supported: just coal, and just post combustion, and with just one plant. This rules out dozens of numerous exciting relevant UK projects. These omissions include CCS fitted to a gas plant, such as a proposed BP and Scottish and Southern Energy project at Peterhead, which we will go on to discuss. It also rules out advanced coal-fired systems such as gasification to form liquid fuels such as hydrogen. Finally, in the development of any new technology, a PROGRAMME of demonstration is usually needed, through several cycles of improvement. If the UK Government is serious leading climate change mitigation, then such a programme must be urgently planned in the UK, EU and worldwide.

The present pace is secure, but lethargic in the face of the climate problem.

By May 2007, 10 projects were proposed for the UK –the largest number in the world. These were also the most diverse mix of projects in the world, and included post-combustion capture on retrofitted and re-powered coal plant, post-combustion on new coal plant, pre-combustion capture on coal new IGCC, and pre-combustion on gas.

If all these 10 projects had been built, 20% of UK base load electricity could have been decarbonised by 2015.

However, the Government began to get cold feet, dithering over whether to support CCS with explicit financial commitments, e.g. via the Renewables Obligation, and consistently changing the timetable – with the first plant now planned after 2014.

As a result, the Government’s long timetable; cautious funding (for just a 400/50MW station) and decision to pick just one technology (coal, post combustion) has actually contracted demand in the CCS industry.

It’s a fascinating research note. Get your paws on it here.

2 Comments

  • Carol A Overland
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    RE: “By May 2007, 10 projects were proposed for the UK –the largest number in the world. These were also the most diverse mix of projects in the world, and included post-combustion capture on retrofitted and re-powered coal plant, post-combustion on new coal plant, pre-combustion capture on coal new IGCC, and pre-combustion on gas.”

    Puh-leeze, these are no more than pipedreams, promises or proposals that the developers can’t deliver on because they’re not technically possible and not commercially available. That was the case for Excelsior Energy’s Mesaba Project, which they claimed was “capture ready” which meant only that flange A had bolts to attach high buck equipment that was not contemplated. CO2 capture on IGCC is fairly easy to do on first 30% or so, but it’s high cost, about a billion per Excelsior. The increase to MWhr cost is $50, increasing cost from the proposed PPA cost of $96-104 to $146-154/MWhr. To get to the next level, that’s not even in development. And once you capture it, what do you do with it? In addition to the high capital cost, there’s a HUGE efficiency loss. At the 30% capture rate, industry models default to a trade scheme rather than pay the freight.
    Search http://www.legalectric.org and look for IGCC or gasification or Excelsior or Mesaba or carbon capture or …
    For some info on chilled ammonia and a link:
    http://gasification-igcc.blogspot.com/2007/07/putting-chill-on-chilled-ammonia-for.html

  • Ed
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 10:57 am

    Could this lack of focus on Carbon Capture be because it isn’t as “visible” to the voter as other iniatives? Governments do things which will win them votes and / or make them money.
    Being seen to do something about the threat of Climate Change is all about the word “seen”. Wind farms are seen. Headline grabbing taxes on big cars are seen.
    Widgets fitted to the top of smoke stacks at power stations, which most of the population has never visited, are not “seen”.
    Additionally, it doesn’t make any money for the exchequer, unlike new taxes or new industries (like wind farms).

    Ed.

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