The move towards carbon capture is gathering pace and ports are playing their part. Felicity Landon reports
Thirty-five percent of all the natural gas used in the UK comes onshore at St Fergus Gas Terminal in North East Scotland. Now the terminal is being lined up to play a central role in the capture, storage and processing of carbon dioxide.
But this is just the start of the carbon capture and storage (CCS) ambitions of the ACT Acorn project. Further down the line, the Port of Peterhead has been earmarked as a UK hub to facilitate CCS; the project partners envisage that 16m tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year could be imported through the port, which has been singled out for its close location to existing North Sea pipelines and infrastructure.
That CO2 could come from around the UK and also from mainland Europe.
The ACT Acorn project has eight European partners, led by Aberdeenshire company Pale Blue Dot, a specialist in carbon capture, utilisation and storage. Steve Murphy, finance director at Pale Blue Dot, says that while the idea of CCS has been around for a long while, finding the appropriate investment has generally been a challenge.
That may be changing: “Climate change and the desire to do something to mitigate the damage from it has become really much more mainstream. Investors and funds are disinvesting in some oil and gas activity. For example, the World Bank is not funding coal-fired power stations, we have seen school strikes over climate change, and the area is ripe for shareholder activism.”
ACT Acorn is recognised as a European Project of Common Interest. It received funding from the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Research Council of Norway and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, with co-funding by the European Commission under the Accelerating CCS Technology (ACT) programme, part of the European Horizon 2020 programme.
At the end of February, initial research work and a report on ‘deliverables’ were completed. More European funding was granted for a study which was finished on March 29 — significant as the original date when the UK was due to leave the EU, to avoid any complications of an overlap.
“We have been awarded some further funding from Europe to do the next phase of development studies and have the opportunity to apply for some funding to do actual physical works; unfortunately, at the moment it is hugely dependent on what the outcome is at Westminster,” says Mr Murphy. “The funding would be beyond studies, to support fabricating, building and installing. Of course, various funding is needed — Europe will only provide a proportion of funding, typically 50%, so co-funding would come from the industry.”
However, he says, industry needs some visibility on making its money back — and that is now in the hands of the UK Government. “We are working on the basis of the first injection of CO2 in 2023–24 and expansion to shipping CO2 into the port behind that —probably 2030, but it all depends on the Government’s decarbonisation strategy.”
The first phase of the ACT Acorn project would involve capturing CO2 directly from the St Fergus site, sending it offshore via existing pipelines due for decommissioning, and storing it in sites under the North Sea. Screening around three strategically important pipelines has revealed at least 16 suitable storage sites. The most promising two could provide a storage resource for over 650m tonnes of CO2.
It is estimated that the reuse of legacy oil and gas infrastructure as part of the CCS project will save around £548m compared to the cost of new build.
In the next phase, redundant onshore transmission pipelines could be used to bring CO2 to St Fergus from further south in Scotland.
After that, the project is looking at the potential for hydrogen manufacture at St Fergus as an initial step in decarbonising gas in the UK. Natural gas would be used in steam methane reformers to produce hydrogen whilst capturing the CO2. The hydrogen could then be exported in the gas transmission system or used locally, whilst the CO2 created during the process would be transported and stored offshore.
“As an important natural gas import facility, with access to nearby CO2 storage facilities and three redundant (but reusable) offshore pipelines, St Fergus is a great location to initiate hydrogen production by decarbonising natural gas,” say the project partners.
The Port of Peterhead comes into the next phase. The report by ACT Acorn set out plans for importing CO2 by ship and transferring it by pipeline via Peterhead Power Station to St Fergus in a new pipeline.
Spain’s Port of Melilla, situated in North Africa, has been leading the way in a novel approach to CO2 capture – via plant life. The port authority was the lead partner in Nereidas Protocol, an EU TEN-T funded project looking at ways of reducing CO2 emissions in port expansions.
Melilla was chosen as a useful case study for the entire Mediterranean region, as the quality of the water, temperature, salinity, sea currents and biodiversity are similar to that of other ports in the Med.
Nereidas was based on the concept of planting and recovering autochthonous Mediterranean marine communities, which would then protect other species that are exposed to the effects of port activity.
The project tested Cymodocea nodosa, a seagrass, and Ellisolandia elongata, a calcifying coral weed, planting the species on the seabed around the port and on breakwaters and other structures. The planting was also backed by a biodegradable support, to enable a large amount of filamentous and invertebrate algae to settle and small fish from rocky beds to thrive, encouraging biodiversity as well as CO2 capture.
“We have a pilot plantation for this project. It isn’t about introducing a strange species anywhere to capture CO2 but thinking about the right species for any particular area,” says Jaime Bustillo Gálvez, head of strategic planning at Melilla Port Authority. “The aim is to reduce the CO2 footprint of a port, through recovery of the seabed surrounding the port, using species that have a very high potential for CO2 capture.”
Carmen Pitarch Moreno, head of the port’s quality, environment and risk prevention division, says: “Melilla isn’t a big port in comparison with others but we are focusing a lot on the environment. We have achieved a lot, and the Nereidas project is just one example.”
The Nereidas project was set up to create a standardisation tool that regulates compensatory measures to minimise the effects of transport and port activity. It uses a combination of techniques and procedures that allow developers, constructors and port authorities to meet the environmental assessments required by the EU, neutralising CO2 emissions, protecting marine biodiversity and increasing the competitiveness of the ports.
Through Nereidas, a protocol has been designed that integrates the management of marine wildlife with the mitigation of adverse environmental impacts of Mediterranean seaports.
PETERHEAD’S CARBON ASPIRATIONS
Peterhead Port has plenty of capacity for the import quantities of CO2 envisaged for the early build out phases of Acorn CCS, says the project report, and a maximum practical capacity of 16.2m tonnes per year. For import quantities in the range of 5-10m tonnes per year, a fleet of three or four tankers of 30,000 to 50,000 dwt (equivalent to 24,000 to 40,000 tonnes CO2) would be required to service routes from CO2 export hubs within the North Sea area.
“The beauty of the project is that the ships carrying CO2 could come from anywhere, whether the UK or across the North Sea,” says Steve Murphy, finance director at project lead Pale Blue Dot. “Access to the port could provide an integrated CO2 transport and storage service; within 50 kilometres of pipeline, there is 40%-50% of the UK’s storage resource. We are talking about a great geographical asset in terms of storage, pipelines and port infrastructure.”
Mr Murphy, who is also a board member of Peterhead Port Authority, says the port has so far been involved in the project in an advisory capacity, “to make sure all the information being used and the outcomes are sensible from their perspective”.
“As a board member at PPA, I would emphasise that Peterhead is a Trust Port. As such, it does take a long-term strategic view of what is going to be good for its stakeholders and it is used to contemplating projects that have a long timescale.”
While some areas at the port would be potentially suitable for the project, no area has been specifically earmarked at this stage.