Carbon capture, use and storage: Everything you need to know
12th March 2020
Carbon capture, use and storage technology is about to scale up, with projects already operating around the world. By the latter part of this decade, we can expect power generators and industry to be capturing millions of tonnes of carbon emissions. Read on to discover how.
What’s carbon capture, use and storage?
Carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) is a way to reduce the carbon emissions of activities such as power generation or intensive processes like steel production. It’s possible to capture around 90% of the carbon dioxide (CO₂) that these processes emit.
Carbon capture happens in nature, as well as in artificial processes. Forests are a good example of carbon capture. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb CO₂ and use it to grow, storing carbon in wood.
How does carbon capture work?
There are two main ways of capturing carbon in industry.
Pre-combustion carbon capture occurs before using a fuel and converts it into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. It’s possible to use the emissions-free hydrogen can then be used to replace natural gas in power generation, heating and other industrial processes.
Post-combustion occurs at the point of use. When using fuel to generate electricity, burning the fuel releases carbon dioxide and other gases. You can use solvents to capture these emissions, called flue gases, - and remove the carbon dioxide before it enters the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.
Once you’ve captured the carbon you can use it (and displace fossil fuel usage in the process), or transport and store it. You can store CO₂ in disused salt mines, depleted oil and gas wells, or natural saline aquifers.
Why is CCUS important in tackling the climate crisis?
Renewable energy sources have proliferated over the last decade, and the carbon intensity of electricity generation has fallen. However, the UK still faces challenges on the journey to a zero-carbon economy.
As electrification decarbonises transport, heating and other sectors of the economy, increased power demand will require flexible sources of power. CCUS, specifically Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), can generate power whatever the weather while providing negative emissions at the same time.
BECCS and other negative emissions technologies can also help to capture emissions from the ‘harder to abate’ sectors, such as industrial processes, aviation and agriculture. Capturing and storing these emissions will play an important part in mitigating climate change.
Innovation engineer inspecting CCUS incubation area within BECCS pilot plant at Drax Power Station
Europe’s first negative emissions project
Drax has an ambition to go beyond carbon neutrality and become carbon negative.
We piloted the first BECCS project of its kind in Europe in October 2018, and the technology captured its first carbon in early 2019.
A second BECCS pilot, which Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) installed within our CCUS incubation area in autumn 2020, enhanced our understanding around delivering negative emissions.
That successful pilot led the two companies to agree a long-term contract for Drax to use MHI’s carbon capture technology, the Advanced KM CDR process™️.
Biomass storage domes and wood pellet conveyor system at Drax Power Station
This European-first project is at the heart of the Zero Carbon Humber partnership. The Humber region is the most carbon-intensive industrial cluster in the UK. Decarbonising it while protecting jobs and growth is both a significant challenge and an opportunity. It could serve as a model for other industrial clusters around the world.
Carbon capture is being used successfully in Norway, the US, Canada and Australia; you can read case studies here.
Norway, the US, Canada and Australia are all using carbon capture successfully. Read the case studies here.
The UK Government’s advisors are clear that without CCUS and negative emissions technology such as BECCS, achieving net zero by 2050 becomes extremely hard and hugely expensive. That’s why coordination between the Government, businesses and other organisations, as well as investors, is essential to make sure we can lead the world in carbon capture.