At the most eastern tip of mainland Scotland sits the Peterhead Power Station, a gas-fired facility that could revolutionise the UK’s quest for decarbonisation.
With support from the UK Government, Shell and SSE are working to transform Peterhead into a commercial-scale, gas-fired, full-chain carbon capture and storage unit – the first such CCS facility anywhere in the world.
As the name suggests, CCS technology captures CO2 generated at the source – in the case of Peterhead, a power station – and stores it permanently and safely beneath the ground, potentially cutting up to 90% of global warming emissions currently released into the atmosphere.
Peterhead CCS is a demonstration project and, if proven, could be an integral part of a growing industry focused on reducing CO2 emissions.
Shell and SSE received the go-ahead to proceed with the latest phase of the project from the government in February 2013, but CCS as a concept has a far longer history.
A decade of development
Bill Spence is Business Opportunity Manager for Peterhead: “10 years ago, when I was working in The Hague as Vice President of the team looking into CO2 reduction, CCS was one of our youngest research areas.”
It wasn’t long before Bill and his team recognised that this emerging technology had an important role to play in the future of the industry.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that energy demand could double by 2050 and, despite 30% of that energy potentially coming from renewables, the majority will be produced from fossil fuels, which emit CO2 when burned. IEA research says that CCS is the only technology capable of mitigating these emissions on a large scale.
“After several years of preparation, the opportunity came up in 2013 for me to go to Peterhead and potentially make CCS happen in the UK,” says Bill. “Having helped write CCS strategies for the Shell Group a decade ago, to now be at the other end of the funnel is as good as it gets.”
A change in the atmosphere
Getting Peterhead CCS to where it is today is the result of recent significant changes in the energy industry.
Project Manager William Lindsay, a Scotsman who returned to his homeland after five years working on an energy-intensive project in Oman, notes the environmental impact of these changes: “At the start of my professional career, countries used to flare off their gas – it was a waste product. Now it’s sometimes gathered up and sold.
“It’s therefore not unthinkable that in the coming years CO2 can be captured and deposited in a way that doesn’t impact the world in the same way.”
Fulfilling its potential
The potential of CCS technology is huge, which is something Bill, William and the rest of the Peterhead team have kept central to their plans since day one.
“We know we need to get the project over the line, making sure it’s technically and commercially solid and of benefit to the immediate community,” explains Bill. “But we also need to realise that, because transforming a full-scale CCS facility from gas-fired power generation has never been done before, we’re setting precedents. This is a vital element to help the CCS industry grow.”
This all forms part of the current project phase: Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED). FEED will continue until the end of the year and includes carrying out impact assessments on the surrounding area, finalising cost projections and encouraging other major industries to participate in the globalisation of CCS.
Final decisions will be made – by Shell, SSE and the UK Government – on whether or not the project proceeds.
“We’ve got a lot of people to persuade and that takes time,” says William. “But it’s in everyone’s interest to find out what it will take to grow a CCS industry successfully.”
Holding these discussions now will help make potential follow-on projects and the uptake of CCS much more efficient, shaving months off the negotiation and development phases, as well as possibly reducing costs for subsequent CCS projects by as much as a third, says William.
Until the end of 2015, William and Bill will be receiving and assessing all the information that will determine the future of not just Peterhead CCS but the CCS industry as a whole.
Bill says: “This is one of those great moments: to potentially see CCS come to fruition in the UK, and show the world that CCS could be a necessary element of the transition to a low-carbon future.”
Peterhead by numbers
- From just one of Peterhead’s gas turbines, Shell and SSE aim to capture around 90% of the CO2 produced
- Over the course of the project’s lifetime this will equate to 10-15 tonnes
- Captured CO2 will be pumped 100km offshore, then stored 2.5km beneath the North Sea
- This depth is the same length of the Forth Bridge in Edinburgh
- The project’s operating lifetime is expected to be between 10 and 15 years
- Over that time Peterhead CCS will produce enough clean electricity to power the equivalent of 500,000 homes every year