Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), hailed as the ‘Get Out of Jail (CO2) Free’ technology for traditional fossil fuel energy, is threatening to stage a repeat of the $885bn – nil defeat that Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund inflicted on the UK. Beginning in the early 1980’s, Norway’s state operated Statoil contributed to a national piggy bank, which today can comfortably mop up the cost of looking after its aging population of 5m, whilst the UK’s stake in the North Sea paid into no such scheme.
CCS comprises a range of technologies that holds the potential of locking up to 90% of CO2 emissions from point sources underground. Once CO2 has been captured at point of emission, liquefied and transported via a vast array of pipelines, it is locked underground in suitable geological formations, saline aquifers or exhausted oil fields where it gradually mineralises through chemical reactions with the host rocks.
Whilst much of the required infrastructure for utilising disused North Sea oil fields and their connecting pipelines remains in place, the UK government must strike whilst the iron is hot. Scottish Carbon Sequestration and Capture, the UK’s largest CCS research group has recently announced that by 2022 the UK could be pumping 2m tonnes of CO2 underneath the North Sea per year. But after dropping its £1bn grant scheme in 2015, the UK government needs to follow the lead of the Scottish Government’s September announcement to fund more CCS feasibility studies in order to capitalise on the North Sea opportunities before Norway does, again.
Students considering Engineering and Earth Science disciplines might be wise to look at CO2 trapping methods at point sources and the chemistry of CO2 mineralisation in depleted oil fields, saline aquifers, and mafic and ultra mafic formations.