The biggest carbon capture project in the UK plans to turn CO2 into useful products.
The Tata Group will build the £16.7 million facility in Northwich to start work in 2021, capturing CO2 emitted when burning fossil fuels which it will turn into sodium bicarbonate, an ingredient used by the food and pharmaceuticals industries.
The Cheshire chemical plant has a target to keep 40,000 tonnes of carbon from the air every year, which is the equivalent of taking 22,000 cars off the UK’s roads. The project will reduce the chemical facility’s emissions by 11%.
The facility’s combined heat and power (CHP) plant is already one of the most efficient power plants in the UK, currently producing half the amount of CO2 per kWh of electricity generated compared to a typical gas fired power station.
This is the first large-scale CCU project of its kind in the UK and the plant’s owners, a division of the Indian-owned Tata conglomerate, hope it will help pave the way for other industrial applications of carbon dioxide capture.
The new plant will take carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of the natural gas-fired CHP plant, which supplies steam and electricity to the company’s operations and other businesses in the area, by exposing the gases to chemical solvents known as amines.
The development has attracted government support with a £4.2 million grant and the move marks a step-change in the quest for the sustainable carbon capture and storage (CCS) sector. Up to now, the sector has struggled to find effective commercial solutions.
In 2015, the government scrapped a proposed £1 billion grant scheme for the development of CCS projects, indicating the lack of belief in commercially viable models.
Unlike many other CCS proposals that would store the captured gases underground, this project will produce viable materials for use in the widest range of products, from eyedrops to antacid, food and drink, detergents and glass.
Martin Ashcroft, managing director of Tata Chemicals Europe said:
“We hope that this project will demonstrate the viability of carbon capture and utilization and pave the way for further applications of the technology to support the decarbonization of industrial activity.
“This project is a great example of business and Government working together to rise to the challenge of decarbonising industrial production.”
Chris Skidmore, the minister for energy and clean growth, said:
“Cutting edge technology to capture carbon will cut emissions as we work towards a net zero economy, while creating new jobs – a key part of our modern industrial strategy.
“If we are to become a net zero emissions economy and end our contribution towards global warming, then innovative schemes like Tata Chemicals’ will be essential.”
The project is a major innovation in the UK’s battle to cut carbon emissions from heavy industry and will capture more than 100 times the carbon dioxide trapped by an existing trial at the Drax power plant in North Yorkshire.
Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs said:
“While this funding is a step in the right direction, far greater support is needed to drive up efficiencies and force down costs.
“However, carbon capture must not be used as an excuse to keep the UK hooked on fossil fuels.”
Net Zero support
There are other carbon capture plants in the UK, including the Drax power station. The government has awarded it a £5 million grant for a CCS pilot, which could keep up to 16 million tonnes of carbon from the air by the mid-2020s.
This is part of a £26 million initiative to support CCS technologies seen as “essential” in the drive to Net Zero by 2050. The government is also spending £170 million to create a net zero carbon “industrial cluster” in the UK by 2040.
Tata also owns one of India’s biggest energy companies and has pledged to end investment in coal plants to focus on wind and solar power.