Guest blog: Achieving decarbonisation in the UK - Low Carbon Summit 2016

4th October 2016

IChemE member and Energy Centre Future Energy Leaders Vice-Chair Matthias Schnellmann was there to participate in the discussions. Here are his thoughts:

Education: Chemical Engineering (MEng), University of Cambridge

Job Title: PhD Student, University of Cambridge

Special Interest Group: Clean Energy

Research interests: Low carbon energy

The IChemE Energy Centre, along with the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) organised a Low Carbon Summit at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in London on Friday 9 September 2016. It was an opportunity to consider what the COP21 and 5th Carbon Budget targets mean for the UK and how existing and future low carbon technologies will help us to meet them.

The summit was opened by Prof. Stefaan Simons, the Chair of the IChemE Energy Centre. He gave an overview of the day and also introduced the Energy Centre. The Centre was launched in March 2015 and aims to give the chemical and process engineering community a coherent voice on energy issues.

Dr David Clarke, CEO ETI

Following this, David Clarke, CEO of the Energy Technologies Institute set the scene by giving a high-level summary of the UK’s energy system and its potential future pathways. The consensus is that power generation should be de-carbonised first, followed by heat and then transport. It was also clear that without carbon capture and storage achieving an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 will be very challenging and significantly more expensive.

After this, Jonathan Graham, Head of Policy at the Association of Decentralised Energy discussed the potential of Combined Heat and Power and heat networks, before handing over to Dr. Chris Williams of Tata Steel who presented a case study of industrial waste heat recovery at the Port Talbot Steelworks. It was clear that we are only beginning to value heat as a resource and there is significant scope for utilising and distributing it more efficiently. It was also helpful to be reminded that making changes to existing assets is a challenge; in industry payback times of 2-3 years are the expectation for retrofits.

Tom Greatrex, CEO NIA

EDF Energy have recently approved investment for the Hinkley Point project, but the UK government only a few hours later announced it would review the deal once again and delay the final decision until the autumn. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the project has been given the go ahead. The next talk, given by Tom Greatrex, CEO of the Nuclear Industry Association was therefore very topical. He argued for a balanced, rational and long-term approach to decarbonisation and made the valuable point that one of the worst outcomes of cancellations and inconsistent policy decisions is that it increases the cost of capital for everyone in the energy sector.

Prof. Rob Holdway followed with an engaging introduction to the circular economy, where rather than materials going from extraction to disposal in a linear fashion, closed loops are instead formed through re-use and recycling. A panel discussion on energy and the circular economy, that included all the morning’s speakers and which was chaired by Prof. Richard Darton concluded the morning’s proceedings. It gave the audience the opportunity to voice their opinions and ask questions.

Professor Patricia Thornley, Director, Supergen Bioenergy Hub

After lunch, the topic of the summit moved on to future energy technologies. Prof. Patricia Thornley gave an overview of the role of bioenergy in delivering greenhouse gas reductions. A myriad of technologies are available and many sectors can be served. While on paper the economics may make sense, often the lack of supply chains and risks such as policy decisions can get in the way of implementation.

De-carbonising the UK’s natural gas network is often voiced as one of the most challenging issues that the country will need to tackle. Dan Sadler from Northern Gas Networks, spoke next on the H21 Leeds City Gate project, which investigated and showed that it should be possible to switch the natural gas network to hydrogen. Although it was done for the Leeds area, it illustrated a pragmatic and cost-effective route to de-carbonising the natural gas network, provided that the hydrogen is generated with no CO2 emissions e.g. by steam methane reforming with carbon capture and storage (CCS). Although this concept has been around for a number of years, this was the first time that I and many in the audience had been presented with a serious and detailed investigation of it.

Pawel Kisielewski, CEO, CCm Research

The CCS theme continued in the next talk, given by Mark Lewis from the Teeside Collective, discussing the opportunities for developing a CCS infrastructure in the industrial and chemicals centre on Teeside. The final talk was given by Pawel Kisielewski and Peter Hammond from CCm Research, a small start-up that is bringing a fertiliser with a much lower carbon footprint compared to conventional ones to market. They presented their novel product and spoke about the challenges of taking a technology from idea to market.

The issue of taking a product through the ‘Valley of Death’ to commercial success and the idea of Open Innovation were the topics of the second panel discussion, chaired by Dr. Richard Bonser. The day concluded with some closing remarks from Prof. Stefaan Simons and a drinks reception.

I found the various presentations and panel discussions informative and stimulating and they were very useful for sharing know-how and experiences across the different sectors that are involved in bringing about our low carbon future.

I also thought that it was a great platform for discussing and developing coherent strategies for bringing about this future. The energy system is a complex, global and interconnected network and so we must work in partnership across the sectors if we want to bring about the necessary changes.

More information about the IChemE Energy Centre can be found here. To see the presentations from the Low Carbon Summit follow this link.

To find out more about joining the IChemE Energy Centre Leadership Forum or Future Energy Leaders here.