The UK government’s £20 billion pot of incentives for carbon capture projects disproportionately supports extraction of gas-derived ‘blue’ hydrogen, increasing long-term reliance on the fossil fuel in Britain’s power mix and imperilling Net Zero goals, an economics think-tank is alleging.
A severe lack of support for CCS projects aimed at decarbonising electricity, by contrast puts at risk the UK’s target of decarbonising the power sector by 2035, according to new research from the Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis .
The IEEFA finds that government-sponsored projects are pointed towards oil and gas owners, accounting for 78% of the proposed emissions capture and thus most of the billions of pounds in public support available.
Earlier this year, the UK government earmarked £20 billion of taxpayer cash over the next 20 years to foster CCUS facilities. A high-risk pillar of the UK’s decarbonisation strategy, the strategy forecasts that around 22 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) will be required to be captured per year by 2030.
Eight projects across the HyNet and East Coast Cluster have been selected to proceed to negotiations for support as part of Phase 2, Track 1 of the government’s CCUS initiative. Of these eight, 81% of captured emissions are proposed to come from processes that require long-term fossil gas use, author Andrew Reid notes in his report.
Fossil fuel firms will benefit most from taxpayer support through Track 1, with 78% of carbon capture in 2030 set to come from projects owned by oil and gas extractors. Included in that total is the proposed new-build Net Zero Teesside Power gas-fired power station, being co-developed by BP. There are currently no gas power CCS projects in operation anywhere else in the world.
While the government plans to expand the Track 1 clusters, the eight selected projects will not meet the UK’s CCS requirements set out by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) in its Sixth Carbon Budget, according to the IEEFA.
The projects are expected to capture circa 6 MtCO2 per annum during their initial phase, or 27% of the CCC 2030 forecast.
Assuming capacity is increased from follow-on phases before the end of the decade, the projects will continue to fall short, meeting only 52% of the carbon capture target.
“It is clear that the UK government needs to focus its attention on supporting CCS projects that increase decarbonisation of electricity supply while the UK energy mix transitions to lower-carbon sources,” writes Reid, a guest contributor at IEEFA Europe.
“A disproportionate amount of support is currently targeting blue hydrogen production, which not only risks meeting the CCC targets but is questionable longer term as the UK increases renewable power generation and the potential for green hydrogen production.”
CCS for the decarbonisation of electricity supply and for greenhouse gas removals represent 78% of the 2030 CCS target, but only 16% will be supported through the current eight Track 1 projects, the IEEFA study asserts.
Conversely, CCS for hydrogen production will deliver 444% of its target, according to the report.
If the government were to include all 20 projects shortlisted in the Phase 1, Track 1 announcement, the potential to achieve the 2030 CCS target would be greatly increased, with emissions capture meeting 93% of the goal.
This strategy though would leave significant gaps in sector-specific decarbonisation, Reid argues. CCS for electricity supply would still be 70% short of its target, while there would still be few projects for greenhouse gas removals.
“The announcement in July this year increasing the number of clusters that would be considered for support to include Acorn and Viking presents an opportunity for the government to prioritise power generation projects over blue hydrogen, getting back on track with the Climate Change Committee’s projections,” said Reid.
World authority the International Energy Agency notes that CCUS can lower emissions in hard-to-abate sectors such as cement, iron, steel and chemicals. But “years of underperformance” and a lack of recent progress have recently led the IEA to revise downward the technology’s role in its global climate mitigation scenarios.
The agency’s latest Net Zero Roadmap sees CCUS contributing less than 5% to required emissions reduction by 2030. Based on the IEA’s CCUS project database, if all planned projects are delivered by 2030, they would still only capture less than 1% of current annual energy-related emissions.
The August 2021 launch of habitually lying premier Johnson’s UK hydrogen policy was marked by the resignation of Chris Jackson, pictured, then the government’s chief advisor on the gas. Jackson slammed the Conservatives’ inclusion of hydrocarbon-derived ‘blue’ hydrogen as ‘an irrelevant distraction’.
Read the IEEFA’s report here.