Decarbonisation not deindustrialisation – the crucial role of ports in carbon capture and storage

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Now is an exciting time for companies working in the carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) space. Ralph Windeatt, ABP Group Head of Business Development, explains why.

Whether you’re part of the media, business or political worlds, conversations around Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) are gaining momentum. And it’s not just conversations. Major project development is underway to deliver the infrastructure required as the Government has announced £20 billion of CCS funding support. Much of the focus has been on pipeline networks connecting industrial and energy sites in a region which has local storage capacity. But what about sites that don’t have that fortunate geography? And how can the UK benefit from its world-leading abundance of storage capacity? There are positive answers to both of these questions – for the decarbonisation of foundation industries like steel, cement and power generation and for new jobs and investment – with ports playing a crucial central role.

Carbon capture and storage is the process of capturing carbon dioxide from emissions from industrial activity, transporting it and then permanently storing it deep underground. All the storage sites proposed in the UK are offshore, with a large concentration of potential storage capacity identified in the North Sea. CCS is a proven technology that has been in safe operation for over 45 years according to the Global CCS Institute[i]. CCU on the other hand, utilises carbon captured to create other products, removing the need to extract further fossil fuels from the ground.

Businesses have joined forces to develop clusters around the traditional centres of heavy industrial activity to collaborate in developing plans for decarbonisation. There isn’t a single silver bullet for achieving net zero overnight in these clusters, including the Humber and South Wales, in a way that ensures jobs are protected in an ever increasingly, globally competitive environment. Finding the balance between delivering the required decarbonisation of industry and power generation, whilst protecting jobs and delivering economic growth is the challenge for business and policy makers alike. This is where CCUS has a role to play in supporting the transition.

CCS on its own isn’t the solution to climate change but it is an important tool the UK will require to achieve net zero whilst maintaining its competitive position on the global stage. It can be deployed alongside the rapid expansion of renewable power, hydrogen and other technologies. The Climate Change Committee described CCUS as “a necessity not an option” to enable the UK to meet its legally binding obligations for net zero by 2050.

The UK Government’s ambitions for carbon capture and storage include sequencing four clusters to deliver up to 30 million tonnes per annum of CO2 storage by 2030. But not all industry sits on the end of one of these pipelines. Shipping CO2 is therefore crucial to CCS and of course this would be impossible to achieve without the right port infrastructure. Having the right infrastructure in place could allow carbon captured at an industrial plant in Wales to be shipped to say the Humber region, where it can be discharged from a vessel into the CO2 transport and storage network.

Our Port of Immingham will support the delivery of the Viking CCS project on the Humber, which has secured Track 2 status in the Government’s cluster sequencing process. This is an important step towards attaining an economic licence for the permanent storage of CO2 in the Viking fields. The project will reuse existing pipelines and decommissioned gas fields to provide a very cost-competitive solution for storage of CO2 emissions.

Viking CCS will have the capability to store up to 10 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030, rising to 15 million tonnes per year by 2035. This can make a significant contribution to the UK’s sixth carbon budget. The project also has the potential to unlock £7 billion of private investment for the Humber region across the CCS value chain. Equally exciting are the huge benefits it will bring to the local community and the UK overall, including the potential creation of up to 10,000 new, good quality jobs during construction and a contribution of £4 billion of GVA to the economy.

In Immingham, the UK’s busiest port, we are planning to construct Immingham Green Energy Terminal, which has the potential to be the UK’s first large scale CO2 import facility. It is strategically located in close proximity to the Viking CCS infrastructure, providing deep water vessel access that will allow CO2 imported by sea into the Port of Immingham to be injected into the transport and storage network for permanent storage in the seabed.

Our partnership with Viking CCS has the strategic potential to launch the environmental and economic benefits of CCS to dispersed industrial areas that do not have direct pipeline access to geological storage, like South Wales for example. Further, CO2 shipping provides a strategic opportunity for the UK to leverage storage on the continental shelf overseas and import CO2, whilst also exporting skills, technology and low carbon products. Join us at our panel discussion on 'Exploring shipping's role in decarbonising UK energy and industry' during London International Shipping Week to find out more about this subject as well as what policy changes and investments are required to achieve green growth.

When it comes to the latest policy developments, in addition to the announcement on Track 2, the UK Government’s recently published Biomass Strategy is also a significant step forward. Bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) uses sustainably sourced biomass to produce energy that is carbon neutral (plants absorb CO2 as they grow) and combined with carbon capture can deliver negative emissions. The UK’s biomass strategy aims to deliver 81 million tonnes per annum of carbon removal by 2050, with BECCS to provide the majority. Drax, which provides around 6% of the UK’s electricity and supports over 7,000 jobs has the potential to be an early adopter and could deliver a significant element of this target.

The role ABP will play in enabling CCUS projects is vital and is linked to the company’s strong focus on sustainability and enabling the UK’s clean energy transition. In February 2023, ABP launched a sustainability strategy, ‘Ready for Tomorrow’, which sets out its plans to become net zero by 2040 at the latest. Read more about our plans to invest around £2 billion to achieve this ambition, here.

This is undoubtedly an exciting time to be part of the ports industry, with projects like Immingham Green Energy Terminal under way, which by enabling CO2 shipping can deliver decarbonisation without risking deindustrialisation to, create a cleaner, greener and more prosperous future for the UK