Accelerating the transition to a sustainable global energy system
Welcome to the first in this series from the SCI Energy Group – we’ll be blogging regularly on topics of broad interest across the energy spectrum.
Andy Walker, Chair of the SCI Energy Group.
I’m Andy Walker, and I have the privilege of chairing the Energy Group, which comprises members drawn from industry, research institutes, universities, energy policy bodies, R&D organisations and scientific publishers. We meet regularly to discuss and organise events around the changing energy landscape, exploring challenges and opportunities associated with the clean energy transition.
We inform and influence climate change dialogue and policy in the UK and further afield, by taking a fact-based approach to the challenges and potential solutions, with the ultimate aim of making the global energy system sustainable. We do this by bringing together experts, influencers and other interested parties from across the technology, social science and policy landscape within industry, academia and government. In this way, the SCI Energy Group offers thought leadership, insight and debate around the clean energy transition.
Recently, the Energy Group Committee visited Imperial College London and were given a fascinating tour of the carbon capture and storage pilot plant, which Committee member Alex Bowles had very kindly organised. This was a really interesting visit, hosted by Dr Colin Hale and several enthusiastic and knowledgeable chemical engineering students, focused on the critical role that the capture and long-term storage (and utilisation) of CO2 will play within the clean energy transition. We learned that carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) can play four critical roles in the transition to net zero:
- Tackling emissions from existing energy assets, for example by retrofitting existing fossil fuel-based power and industrial plants, by capturing the CO2 emissions emitted during these processes.
- As a solution for sectors where emissions are hard to abate, such as the in-process emissions during cement manufacture (one of the largest industrial sources of CO2 today).
- As a platform for clean hydrogen production – almost all of the 90 million tonnes of hydrogen generated today is via methane steam reforming, which emits around 10 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of hydrogen produced.
- Removing CO2 from the atmosphere to balance emissions that cannot be directly abated or avoided (so-called direct air capture, DAC).
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the amount of CO2 captured and stored annually in their Sustainable Development Scenario rises to around 9.5 Gt per year by 2070, with another 0.9 Gt CO2 captured and used to make, for example, fuels and chemicals. (Note that a Gigatonne (Gt) is one billion metric tonnes).
IEA, Growth in world CO2 capture by source and period in the Sustainable Development Scenario, 2020-2070, IEA, Paris. Licence: CC BY 4.0
The Energy Group plans to visit several other sites of interest in the coming months, including Drax and the Energy Innovation Centre in Birmingham, so look out for updates from these future visits.
Our next blog will relate to a recent workshop on Energy Storage, which we organised with strong support from Innovate UK/Knowledge Transfer Network. We brought in representatives from industry, academia, government and the finance sector to discuss this broad topic and to identify the key challenges, as well as outline some key policy questions for the government.
We chose this topic because energy storage is a critical part of the clean energy transition, as the world moves towards an increasing dependency on renewable sources of energy, which are inherently intermittent, yet it doesn’t receive enough attention and support from governments around the world. We’re sure you’ll find the outputs from this workshop very interesting!