Industry, government and regulators have been told they must collectively explore both the benefits and risks hydrogen and CCUS bring “at the earliest opportunity” to ensure their potential to play significant roles in the journey to net zero by 2050 can be realised.
On 28 July, the Energy Research Partnership (ERP) published a report, exploring the environmental challenges that face carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen. It noted that while there are uncertainties as to whether hydrogen and CCUS can be deployed at scale, cost-effectively, in the 2030s, there is a consensus from industry any technical challenges can be overcome. However, there are environmental factors at play that also merit research and strategic thinking to ensure deployment can be sustainable.
This will be key to garnering public acceptance, it continued, citing the findings of the 2020 UK Climate Assembly, which found that the public have doubts as to whether CCUS in particular is safe for the environment and that a majority would not be in favour of it.
Therefore, the report sought to raise some of the important environmental considerations for CCUS and hydrogen, beginning with the need to explore whether water resource and quality issues will limit deployment of CCUS at scale, with it recommending efforts are made to drive efficiencies in water use for hydrogen and carbon capture at commercial scale, with the multi-sector framework of regional water resources groups used to balance the needs of the sector and other water uses. As well as stressing the need to be open and transparent about risks involved, warning the public will not accept the technology if they do not understand risks or suspect they are being hidden from them, it called for the safety of the public and environment to be put first. This should see research into the assessment of emissions from carbon capture and potential impact on air quality prioritised.
It also recommended accounting for and reporting the efficiency of all associated processes from the extraction of natural gas through to the long-term storage of carbon; to calculate the total expenditure cost of CCUS; to demonstrate that carbon dioxide storage is safe and permanent, accounting for the safety risks of carbon storage and addressing concerns through robust monitoring of subsurface carbon dioxide storage locations; and ensuring proactive and visible public engagement, something that should be the mainstay of communications with outcomes from public perception dialogue projects adopted.
It set out how investors, regulators and the public are “hungry” for assurances new technologies will be fit for the future, when deployed at scale; can operate within the environmental constraints a future climate will bring; and that human health will be prioritised. Through resolving these questions quickly, openly and transparently, it will enable developers to build investor confidence and public acceptance, improving the prospects of a smooth transition towards net zero.