How can we build the zero-carbon economy of the future?
The carbon capture technologies that can help decarbonise industry and create jobs.
By 2050, the UK could be emitting 95–96% less carbon than it did in 1990, provided the necessary decarbonisation measures are deployed early enough.
The last 4–5% will be harder to cut, and will require behaviour change such as consuming less beef, lamb and dairy products. It will need more investment in abating emissions, like increasing forest cover in the UK to 17% and adding biochar to soil to increase the amount of carbon it holds.
BECCS has not one but two roles to play in this new energy landscape. Firstly, it can remove emissions at source, and secondly it can provide a reliable supply of renewable electricity.
Along with other power generation technologies such as nuclear, hydro, battery storage and pumped hydro storage, this makes BECCS an ideal partner for intermittent renewables such as wind and solar, which depend on the weather.
Along with wind and solar, BECCS may also be needed to produce the necessary zero-carbon supply of green hydrogen that is anticipated will provide an alternative to the natural gas currently used for cooking and heating, and to the fuels currently used to power large vehicles.
Hydrogen it may even be used as a new fuel for electricity generation.
When it is burnt, hydrogen produces only water vapour and heat. But although it can be produced from electrolysing water or extracted from natural gas or biomass, doing so without carbon emissions would require zero carbon electricity, say from wind turbines, carbon negative power, from BECCS, in the first case (green hydrogen), and would depend on gas with CCUS in the second (blue hydrogen).
Delivering this zero-carbon revolution will lead to transformation of industry that goes beyond traditional sectors across whole economies.
To this end, net zero industrial clusters will need to be created. These will be industrial areas linked to common infrastructure for the transport and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2), along with interdependent resources for electricity and hydrogen generation.
Zero Carbon Humber is already one of these clusters. It’s a partnership made up of a number of companies aiming to decarbonise the UK’s most carbon-intensive industrial cluster — currently emitting an annual 12.4 million tonnes of carbon (MtCO2).
Drax Group, the UK’s largest renewable generator, is part of it. Carl Clayton, Drax’s Head of BECCS, explains: “From an engineering point of view this is a huge project. It will require new skills, new people, new mindsets and new thinking. It’s a big shift — but as an engineer you enjoy it. It challenges you to work through problems collaboratively and draw upon a wide range of expertise.”
There is a powerful economic case for large-scale decarbonisation of this kind, supporting a green recovery and the levelling up agenda. In the Humber alone, one fifth of total economic value is provided by industries that are energy and emissions-intensive, such as steel. Indeed, up to 360,000 jobs in the region rely on industries such as refining, petrochemicals, manufacturing and power generation.
And carbon capture technologies can do much more than help support jobs in the UK — they can help decarbonise the whole world. According to a report by Vivid Economics for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) by 2050, exporting CCUS could help the UK earn more than half a billion pounds a year, and support 6,000 jobs.
So it’s clear that developing BECCS, and combining it with complementary decarbonisation technologies in zero-carbon industrial clusters can play huge role in building the clean economy of the future.