The UK’s pipeline of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen projects took several steps forward this week, thanks to a flurry of announcements from leading developers.

Sembcorp Energy UK (SEUK) and US clean energy innovation firm 8 Rivers Capital, acting through its UK subsidiary Zero Degrees Whitetail Development Ltd. (ZDW), yesterday announced a collaboration agreement that could see the firms develop the UK’s “first net zero power station” at SEUK’s Wilton International site on Teesside.

Dubbed Whitetail Clean Energy, the project aims to deliver 300MW of capacity when it is up and running and is expected to support over 2,000 direct, indirect, and induced jobs, including cascading supply chain opportunities, the developer’s said.

The Whitetail facility is expected to harness the Allam-Fetvedt Cycle (AFC), pioneered by NET Power and 8 Rivers Capital, which combusts natural gas with oxygen, rather than air, and uses supercritical carbon dioxide  as a working fluid to drive a turbine instead of steam. As a result, all air emissions, including traditional pollutants and CO2, are eliminated and pipeline-quality CO2 is produced so that it can be captured and stored offshore, the companies said. The project could be up and running as early as 2025.

Cam Hosie, chief executive of 8 Rivers Capital, said:”Project Whitetail represents a key step towards Net Zero with the UK and US working in close collaboration. The Allam-Fetvedt Cycle technology was first supported by the UK government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change in 2010, and the announcement today of the Whitetail Clean Energy project demonstrates the value of supporting research and development projects to support the UK’s efforts to achieve its Net Zero targets, with commercially scaled technologies today returning to the United Kingdom as proven concepts.

Energy abd Climate Change Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan welcomed the news, arguing that the “development of the UK’s first-ever net zero power station, benefitting from over £6m government support since 2012 is a real game-changer and a significant step forward in the UK’s fight against climate change as we build back greener from the pandemic”.

“This project not only demonstrates the UK’s leadership in helping the world decarbonise but our expertise in scaling up research and development projects, creating over 2,000 jobs in Teesside and opening up opportunities right across the supply chain – supporting our efforts to revitalise this key industrial heartland,” she added.

In related news,Scotland’s Acorn Project, which is being developed by Storegga, Pale Blue Dot, Shell, and Harbour Energy, announced this week that it has inked a contract with Carbon Clean to provide Front End Engineering Design (FEED) services to the project.

The specialist carbon dioxide capture and separation technology developer is now set to work in collaboration with consulting and engineering firm Wood on process design and construction planning for Acorn’s carbon capture process unit (CCPU).

Aniruddha Sharma, CEO of Carbon Clean, said the carbon captured by the project would have a “tangible effect” on the UK’s transition to net zero.  “We look forward to getting underway with the (“FEED”) stage and working with the other consortium partners to implement novel carbon capture and storage solutions,” he added.

Annual volumes of CO2 stored via the project are predicted to reach 5-10Mt per year by 2030.

Trevelyan again welcomed the announcement as a step forward for both the project and the UK’s wider decarbonisation plans. “The UK is fast becoming a world-leader in developing new technology that captures and stores harmful emissions,” she said. “Pale Blue Dot and Carbon Clean, who have received £11m UK government funding, will help the UK go further to deploy critically important carbon capture and hydrogen infrastructure that will help British industries to decarbonise in a way that’s competitive and projects jobs.”

Nick Cooper, CEO of Storegga, the lead developer of the Acorn Project, said the award of the contract to Carbon Clean represented an “important milestone” for carbon capture in the UK. “The Acorn Project has a crucial role to play in helping decarbonise our energy system,” he said. “It will provide critical infrastructure at scale that will cost effectively transform carbon intensive industries across Scotland and the UK and even Europe; helping build a fairer, more resilient economy, while sustaining and creating low carbon jobs.”      

The news comes just days after Petrochemical giant INEOS signed a memorandum of understanding that could see its giant Grangemouth site join the cluster of industrial sites feeding into the Acorn project’s network of carbon capture infrastructure.

In further green industrial news, SSE Thermal and Equinor today announced that they are developing plans for one of the world’s largest hydrogen storage facilities at their existing Aldbrough site on the East Yorkshire coast with a view to being able to store low-carbon hydrogen as early as 2028.

The existing Aldbrough Gas Storage facility, which was commissioned in 2011, is co-owned by SSE Thermal and Equinor, and consists of nine underground salt caverns, each roughly the size of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Upgrading the site to store hydrogen would involve converting the existing caverns or creating new purpose-built caverns to store the low-carbon fuel, the companies said.

With an initial expected capacity of at least 320GWh, Aldbrough Hydrogen Storage would be significantly larger than any hydrogen storage facility in operation in the world today, the firms said, adding that the Aldbrough site was “ideally located to store the low-carbon hydrogen set to be produced and used in the Humber region”.

Equinor has announced its intention to develop 1.8GW of ‘blue hydrogen’ production in the region starting with its 0.6GW H2H Saltend project which will supply low-carbon hydrogen to local industry and power from the mid-2020s. This will be followed by a 1.2GW production facility to supply the Keadby Hydrogen Power Station, proposed by SSE Thermal and Equinor as the world’s first 100 per cent hydrogen-fired power station, before the end of the decade.

The new projects are the latest in a growing pipeline of CCS and hydrogen developments that are designed to decarbonise the UK’s heavy industry. However, developers have repeatedly warned that final investment decisions for many of the new developments will be informed by the government’s much-anticipated new policy frameworks for the emerging CCS and hydrogen industries, with experts warning projects are unlikely to proceed without some form of policy support.

Stephen Wheeler, managing director of SSE Thermal, said: “We’re delighted to be announcing our plans for the development of this world-leading hydrogen storage facility with our partners in Equinor, which would play a vital role in creating a low-carbon hydrogen economy in the Humber and beyond. By delivering large-scale hydrogen storage capacity, we can utilise hydrogen to decarbonise vital power generation, as well as heavy industry, heat, transport, and other hard-to-reach sectors, safeguarding and creating crucial jobs and investment across the region.”

The government has set an ambition to capture 10Mt of carbon dioxide a year by 2030, and today the Environment Agency set out new ‘Best Available Technique’ guidance for post-combustion CCS technologies, in a bid to ensure they meet strict environmental and social requirements before being deployed.

Lee Rawlinson, director of regulated industry at the Environment Agency, said the body had “an important part to play in permitting many of the energy technologies that are likely to emerge over the coming years”. “This is part of our Climate Ambition to help create a net zero nation that is resilient to climate change,” he said. “As an environmental regulator, our role is to ensure that these new technologies, including carbon capture, are conducted in a way that protects people and the environment. Our Best Available Technique guidance will go a long way towards achieving that.”