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How 'Learning by Doing' Can Make the UK a Leader in the Global Carbon Capture Market

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The recent launch of the UK Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) Competition and CCS Roadmap provides a much-needed shot in the arm to this exciting industry, both by financially and in displaying the UK government's commitment to this vital technology. The offer of £1 billion together with the development of a suitable financing package under the UK's Electricity Market Reform will enable companies to make the necessary investment decisions that will bring forward the first CCS projects in the UK.

Despite a half-decade delay and numerous setbacks, the industry remains positive about CCS, and the UK is in one of the strongest positions to commercialise the technology; generating around 100,000 jobs and 6.5bn in the 2020s. Industry is already responding, in April plans for a new commercial-scale CCS project were announced and another proposal also announced major inward investment from Samsung bringing to seven the number of proposed large scale projects in the UK.

With the policy framework in place, now, it's critical for CCS technologies to deliver on the government's support, by bringing forward innovative demonstration projects. The UK Energy Research Council (UKERC) spent two years researching CCS and has found that a regulatory approach making CCS compulsory in all fossil plants will only work if the technology is more advanced. The report's lead author Dr Jim Watson, director of the energy research group at Sussex University, said:

"...unlike other low-carbon technologies, CCS doesn't exist at the commercial scale. We don't know when they will be technically proven at full scale, and whether costs will be competitive with other low-carbon options. So it is vital that the government's commitment leads to several full-scale CCS projects as soon as possible; only through such learning by doing will we know whether it is a serious option for the future."

In order to get the technology to this stage and encourage further support through the Electricity Market Reform, it's up to industry to ensure that it maximises efficiency and minimises the cost of new CCS plants. To secure investor confidence, the industry needs to demonstrate the commercial reality of CCS and dispel the view that CCS is an expensive, risky distraction - purely in pursuit of carbon reduction.

A key element of the scaling up of technology development is CCS testing. That's why at Mongstad, we have issued a call to action for technologists to make use of the test facilities we have been developing since 2007. The amine CO2 capture plant is the largest, most comprehensive and flexible test facility in the world. The UK's significant existing investment in pilot CCS plant, as well as its proximity to the UK, makes it an ideal test partner. In addition to offering testing new technologies, we're inviting technology firms to demonstrate their equipment at scale at Mongstad, which is key for driving ongoing investment.

Given the government's clear policy signal, the proposals are being developed for the £1 billion competition. However, in the run up to the competition winners being announced, it's vital that CCS developments continue to be tested and proven, both in order to win ongoing investment, as well as to build a demand for the technology, so that when CCS is commercialised, there are qualified buyers. Industry has to believe there is a market for CCS. By demonstrating technologies at scale and showing the knowledge and experience in constructing cost effective CCS, TCM will prove the potential of CCS in the transition period between now and the opening of the first demonstration plants in 2016.

2012 is critical to force CCS into mainstream thinking as a lucrative investment; if we work in silos we may miss our window to make that happen. Instead, by collaborating, we can create the momentum for a standardised group of CCS technologies, which will provide investors with the security they need. Also, by working together, the industry can address other important areas including developing skills and the supply chain, storage and CCS infrastructure.

In order to commercialise CCS, it is essential that lessons learnt and improvements made can be shared. The Government's CCS Commercialisation Programme is focused on learning by doing; and the best way to achieve that is by sharing the knowledge already in existence of developing CCS.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) supports the Government's CCS roadmap, but with the caveat that collaboration and sharing of best practice is crucial. According to Rhian Kelly, the CBI's director for business environment policy:

"The government must learn lessons from its previous (CCS) competition, which took too long and was eventually abandoned. This time around the competition must be simpler and completed as quickly as possible."

Included in the UK government's programme of interventions is a commitment to develop an international engagement strategy focused on learning from other projects around the world to help accelerate cost reduction in the UK, and sharing knowledge. By focusing on international collaboration and learning from other tested projects, the UK can develop cost effective CCS plants.

The Mongstad test centre was first conceived by the Norwegian state and Statoil in 2006, since then, a myriad of organisations have come together to form a partnership to develop CCS, including Shell, Sasol, Aker Clean Carbon and Alstom.

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