The National Grid is reported to be drawing up plans for a new business unit that will pipe CO2 emissions from UK power stations for storage in geological formations beneath the North Sea. ‘National Grid Carbon’ could play a major role in the company’s long-term growth by serving UK power plants fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The plan is to construct a £2bn carbon transport and storage network around the Humber estuary.

NEW TRANSPORT AND STORAGE FACILITIES

Five of Britain's largest coal and gas-fired power stations are situated around the Humber estuary in Yorkshire. National Grid is reported to be in talks with the major generators in the region, as well as Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency, about proposals to construct a carbon transport and storage network to handle gaseous carbon dioxide emitted from the coal and gas-fired stations.

A mixture of the National Grid's existing pipelines together with new infrastructure will be used to transport the carbon to old gas fields in the North Sea where permeable rocks which originally contained gas are well suited to the permanent storage of carbon. Stuart Larque, a spokesperson at National Grid, has stressed:

“We are not looking at capturing the CO2 from power stations or sequestering it in offshore fields. If people do go ahead with carbon capture and storage the question really is to offer new ways to get the gas to the fields. We are looking at the potential for re-using gas transmission lines as they become redundant.”

The plan is for National Grid to set up the gathering system and then hand responsibility for the storage of the captured carbon to a third party – likely to be the oil company licensed to use the depleted gas field.

Stuart Larque has stated that a team of around 100 people are working on the project at present. They are currently looking into the commercial and technical feasibility of the project, with a technical team working with academics at Newcastle University to study methods of storing and moving carbon by pipe while a commercial business development team is examining different ways that the new unit could be structured and financed.

Although the project is still in its early days, the National Grid plans to be ready to operate its first carbon pipeline system within three years, in time to meet the Government's deadline of having Britain's first commercial scale CCS equipped power plant operational.

The proposed plan closely follows a report prepared last year by engineering consultancy, Amec, on behalf of Yorkshire Forward, and according to Chris Train, director of network operations at the National Grid, could be replicated at other locations around the UK where clusters of coal-fired power stations exist, including Scotland and East Anglia.

IMPACT OF THE NEW CCS FACILITIES

The Humber estuary is home to many industrial sites and coal-fired power stations and it is estimated that around 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year are emitted in the area. This is the region with the biggest carbon dioxide output in Europe.

Chris Train, believes that capturing and storing the carbon under the new scheme will be "equivalent to taking 20 million cars off the road". Alastair Rennie at Amec has estimated that the project could cut CO2 emissions for the UK as a whole by 6%.

The Yorkshire and Humber area is ideally suited as a first project of this kind because it has a number of large-scale CO2 emitters, and a large number of mature gas fields nearby with a well-understood, stable geology, ideal for carbon storage.

The Government hopes that CCS, which remains an untested technology on a commercial scale, can play “a critical role in helping the UK” to meet legally binding obligations to cut carbon emissions by 20% by 2020.