A small group of National Grid representatives leaning on a table covered in plans and paperwork

Pipeline to the future

Storage Development Manager Richard Holdgate explains how National Grid’s pioneering work on Carbon Capture and Storage technology could potentially unlock a £10 billion industry for the UK.

National Grid’s ground-breaking work on a project to drill the world’s first offshore appraisal well for the storage of carbon dioxide has won an award for innovation in the 2014 Gas Industry Awards, run by the Energy and Utilities Alliance and the Institute of Gas Engineers and Managers (IGEM).

Our project team safely drilled the well and collected the data needed to prove the viability of CO2 storage, potentially unlocking a £10 billion industry in the UK for transport and storage of CO2 alone.

The award, presented by The RT Hon Caroline Flint, IGEM President Simon Ayley and EUA President Vic Tuffen, also recognised the leading role National Grid is playing in the development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology.

A ‘game-changing’ technology

The CCS process enables CO2 emissions from fossil fuel-fired power stations to be captured and permanently stored in  very deep subsurface rock formations, over 1km beneath the bed of the North Sea, instead of being released into the atmosphere as currently happens.

It’s been hailed by MPs as a possible ‘game changer’ in decarbonising  the UK’s power sector at the lowest possible cost, while opening up a new ‘storage’ market whereby other countries would pay  to store CO2 at sites in the UK.

The offshore store in the southern North Sea will also initially provide the permanent storage site for the White Rose CSS Project – an oxy-fuel power and carbon capture and storage demonstration project of up to 450MWe gross output, with consortium partners Alstom, Drax and BOC.

The project will comprise a state-of-the-art, standalone coal-fired power plant equipped with full carbon capture and storage technology, with the potential to co-fire biomass at the existing Drax Power Station site near Selby, in North Yorkshire.

This will generate electricity for export to the electricity transmission network as well as capturing approximately two million tonnes of CO2 per year, some 90% of all CO2 emissions from the plant.

As part of the White Rose Project, National Grid will build and operate the pipelines to transport the CO2 and, with partners, the permanent undersea storage facilities in the North Sea. We’re looking to bring new storage developers, owners and operators into the UK storage industry through this project.

This large-scale store could be at the heart of the development of a £10bn+ industry in the UK by 2030, enabling Government to meet climate change goals, while keeping fossil fuels as part of the energy mix and at lower costs to consumers.

- Richard Holdgate, National Grid’s Storage Development Manager 

Commercially viable

White Rose aims to prove the viability of CCS on a commercial scale and showcase the technology as an important weapon in tackling climate change. The project will also play an important role in establishing a CO2 transportation and storage network in the Yorkshire and Humber area.

The well drilling project involved a significant number of major achievements and milestones. Not only was it the first well for National Grid – requiring qualification of competence to manage offshore operations from DECC as the regulator – it was also the first CCS well drilled in the UK, amidst a new and untested regulatory regime; and the first offshore CO2 appraisal well to be drilled globally.

We also developed a world-class supply chain specifically for these activities, working with a number of offshore companies to make the project a reality. These companies were experts with oil and gas exploration and production but, with the help of the National Grid project, extended their capabilities to cover the distinct and different requirements of the CO2 storage industry.

In 2010, having secured European Energy Programme for Recovery (EEPR) funding with the Don Valley Project, we started work on our storage programme as part of our Humber Cluster transportation and storage network.

The site was selected as the best option for drilling following a regional assessment of all potential storage areas in the southern North Sea, at a level of detail not previously done anywhere else. Hydro-carbon exploration and production activities in the region offered a wealth of data on which to base our studies. Delivery of a successful data acquisition programme was also vital to the success of the drilling operation and the wider project.

Significant opportunities

The engineering challenges are significant, but the commercial model also requires real focus. If we get this right, we could enable the wider commercialisation of the industry based around the initial infrastructure put in to serve the White Rose project (2Mt Co2 annually) – but extending the capability so we can transport up to 17Mt CO2 each year.

Both the European Commission and DECC have endorsed our approach to large-scale, shared-user transportation and storage infrastructure – our Humber cluster concept – including the role which this would play in minimising costs and maximising potential uptake.

National Grid has been involved in the development of CCS projects for more than six years, primarily focused on the development of pipeline transportation networks. We’ve calculated that the investment in pipeline networks could exceed £10bn by 2030.

This is a significant potential transmission business opportunity for National Grid, while achieving a positive outcome on the well is a vital milestone for the development of CCS in the UK.

There are further hurdles to be overcome, but if the correct business models can be developed, this large-scale store could be at the heart of the development of a new industry in the UK by 2030, enabling Government to meet climate change goals while retaining fossil fuels as part of the energy mix and at a lower cost to consumers.