How UK startups are contributing to carbon capture targets

With the UK's net-zero ambitions on a knife-edge, innovative new businesses could play a key part in achieving its climate targets.

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Yesterday, amid controversy over his plans for expanding North Sea oil and gas exploration, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also gave a nod towards sustainability by announcing £20 billion in funding for four carbon capture projects in Scotland.

North East Scotland and the Humber have been chosen as locations for two new carbon capture usage and storage clusters. It is hoped the investment will build a thriving clean industry in the North Sea, which could also support up to 50,000 jobs.

The innovative nature of startups make such businesses perfectly placed to help ramp up the UK’s carbon capture efforts. We spoke to Carbon Clean and KEW Technology, two UK startups in the sector, about their operations; why carbon capture is so important, and their thoughts on Monday’s government announcement.

What is carbon capture?

Carbon capture is a three-stage process that involves capturing the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by power generation or industrial activity – such as steel making – and then transporting it, and storing it deep underground.

Carbon capture is considered an important piece of the puzzle in the UK’s fight against climate change. Trapping the carbon dioxide as it is produced through industrial processes means it isn’t released into the air – an essential process to slow global warming.

Aniruddha Sharma

Chair and CEO at Carbon Clean

Carbon Clean

What is Carbon Clean?

“Carbon Clean’s standardised, fully modular carbon capture technology, CycloneCC, will accelerate the global adoption of carbon capture in key industries that have few other available options to decarbonise.

“The size and cost of carbon capture technology have historically been significant barriers to adoption. CycloneCC overcomes these barriers; its overall footprint is up to 50% smaller than a conventional plant and it can capture CO2 at a cost that is up to 50% less per tonne than conventional carbon capture systems.”

What achievements are you most proud of so far?

“Carbon Clean has amassed a deep understanding of industrial carbon capture technologies since its inception in 2009, working with commercial and academic partners to test and validate its solutions. Its proven technologies are delivering for industrial partners around the world, and it has technology references across 49 sites.

“Carbon Clean delivered the world’s first subsidy-free, fully commercial industrial-scale carbon capture and utilisation plant at Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals and Fertilisers Limited in India in October 2016. The plant is installed on a coal-fired boiler and is designed to capture 60,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, which is then converted into soda ash (sodium carbonate) – an ingredient used in household products, glass manufacturing and paper production.

“In 2023, Carbon Clean announced its 50th commercial project – to deliver carbon capture equipment capable of capturing 70,000 tonnes of biogenic CO2 per year for Ørsted’s FlagshipONE facility in Sweden, Europe’s largest green methanol project. FlagshipONE will supply 50,000 tonnes of eMethanol per year to the shipping industry, which today accounts for around 3% of global carbon emissions.”

Why is carbon capture crucial to the fight against climate change?

“Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is a vital solution to deliver net zero due to its ability to significantly reduce emissions from across the economy, including energy intensive industries that are otherwise hard to decarbonise – such as cement, chemicals, iron and steel and refining.

“2022 was a landmark year for the CCUS sector with over 60 new projects added to the global CCUS project pipeline, making a total of 30 CCS projects in operation, 11 under construction and 153 in development globally. But installed capacity needs to increase 120-fold by 2050 to meet climate targets, and to achieve this we still need a favourable policy environment.”

What are your thoughts on this week’s government announcement?

“It’s fantastic news that the UK government has confirmed its commitment to the scaling up of CCUS across the UK. CCUS has the potential to protect 77,000 current jobs and create a further 70,000 jobs across the UK.

“We welcome today's decision, but join the CCSA in their call for the UK government to urgently publish their vision for the UK CCUS sector to provide the needed clarity for the rest of the industry.”

James Barrett-Miles

Chief Commercial Officer at KEW Technology

KEW Technology

Why is carbon capture crucial to the fight against climate change?

“Carbon capture is vital in combating climate change as it provides a way to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions – notably CO2 – from diverse industrial processes and advanced molecules generation sources. Its significance lies in the following aspects:

  1. Reducing CO2 emissions – Carbon capture technologies capture CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere, preventing its accumulation and consequent global warming;
  2. Addressing challenging sectors – Certain industries, like heavy industry and aviation, are difficult to decarbonise conventionally. Carbon capture enables emission reduction in these sectors;
  3. Enabling negative emissions – When combined with CCS or CCU in applications with long-term retention like cement or building materials, carbon capture on technology processes – like KEW Technology’s, that uses waste/biomass – can achieve negative emissions, removing CO2 from the atmosphere.”

What do the next five years hold for KEW?

“KEW Technology has a carbon capture technology process that is in the early stages of commercialisation. Demonstration is planned for 2024, with commercial deployment of the technology planned for 2025 onwards across a wide scale of CO2 capture.

“This will start from 20,000-60,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum for KEW’s existing smaller projects in the pipeline, to over 200,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum captured from one of KEW’s current projects in the pipeline in Teesside.”

What are your thoughts on this week’s government announcement?

“We are delighted to witness the UK government's commitment to advancing its CCUS deployment program and announcing the next two CCUS clusters.

“The urgency to achieve our 2030 targets necessitates swift action. We firmly believe that establishing CCS infrastructure is paramount to securing the UK's supply chain and enabling the prosperity of local industries. This infrastructure empowers industries to thrive while effectively reducing their emissions, aligning with our shared vision of transitioning to a net-zero economy.

“However, as we forge ahead with deploying our advanced gasification technology with carbon capture capability into projects, we eagerly seek longer-term clarity from the government on CCUS. We also understand that CCS alone may not be the sole remedy for addressing CO2 supply chain vulnerabilities, and recognise the pressing need for sustainable solutions in the face of the UK's delicate CO2 supply chain.

“Recent issues with fertiliser production have highlighted the fragility of this critical input gas for many industrial energy processes. That's why we emphasise the importance of CCU in certain contexts. CCU serves as a core part of the government's integrated CCUS strategy, allowing for the productive use of captured CO2, rather than solely relying on storage.

“We are committed to working closely with the government to create a clear and stable roadmap for CCS and CCU development and integration. A robust CCUS roadmap would provide the confidence and support needed for our technology to have a lasting impact in contributing to the UK's sustainable future.”

Mid shot of Kirstie Pickering freelance journalist.
Kirstie Pickering - business journalist

Kirstie is a freelance journalist writing in the tech, startup and business spaces for publications including Sifted, TNW, UKTN, The Business Magazine and Maddyness UK. She also works closely with agencies such as CEW Communications to develop content for their startup and scaleup clients.

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