The North Sea industry and supply chain has many of the technologies needed to help cut emissions.
IF Scotland is to reach its net zero emissions target of 2050, the attention of scientists and researchers must turn to below the surface of the earth, experts say. Advances and investment in geothermal energy, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) are “critical” to moving the UK towards its target, according to a report published in Petroleum Geoscience. Researchers from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, have said the North Sea already has the technology and supply chain in place for CCS to take place. Professor Sebastian Geiger, director of Heriot-Watt University’s Institute for GeoEnergy Engineering, said: “Carbon capture and storage, combined with oil and gas production or hydrogen generation, can create almost carbon neutral energy supplies. It is an essential component to provide energy security while we transition to a low-carbon energy future. “The North Sea industry and supply chain already has many of the technologies we need to make CCS a reality and our institute has been active in CCS research for nearly 20 years. Now what’s required is large-scale demonstrations so we can build the business case for CCS. “Energy firms around the world are committing many millions of pounds into making CCS reality, and it’s essential the UK isn’t left behind.”
Professor Mike Stephenson, chief scientist, decarbonisation and resource management at BGS, said: “If we want to reach net-zero by 2050, we need to focus on increasing our knowledge of the subsurface of the UK. “Geothermal energy, carbon capture and storage and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage are the three technologies that could get the UK towards net zero.” The Natural Environment Research Council commissioned the £31million UK Geoenergy Observatories, which are under way in Glasgow, Cardiff and Cheshire. These observatories are said to be a huge step forward and will help researchers and geologists understand the subsurface in detail that hasn’t been possible before. Mr Stephenson added: “We need more large-scale pilot and demonstrations of geothermal, CCS and BECCS so we can make rapid advances in these fields.” He went on to warn that before progress can be made in decarbonisation and the three technologies with the most potential, scientists need to advance their understanding of the UK’s subsurface. He said: “Earlier this year, about 100 geoscientists gathered in London to discuss decarbonisation. One of the most fundamental challenges we identified was the need to characterise the UK’s subsurface. “For the hydrogen economy to advance, we need to understand the properties of the deep rock salt that will be used to store the gas. If we want to store carbon dioxide, we need to map and characterise sandstone. “We need to know how gases and fluids flow through or are contained in these rocks so we can start identifying new sites where these technologies could be installed. “Decarbonisation needs the right combination of geological advantages, and in some parts of the country, clusters have already formed. “In the north-west of England, for example, there is the potential for offshore CCS, salt for hydrogen storage and some geothermal potential, next to many industries that need to get rid of carbon dioxide. This is an area we could focus our research to maximise advances in decarbonisation techniques.” The report was compiled following the 2019 Bryan Lovell conference organised by the Geological Society. Society president Nick Rogers said “Across the UK, geoscientists are working to address the challenges posed by the need to transition to low-carbon energy sources and meet UK targets for net-zero emissions. “By bringing together knowledge of subsurface structural characteristics, fluid flow, and geochemistry, they will be able to support and drive forward efforts to ensure the energy security and independence of the UK, while minimising the environmental impacts of energy generation.” Work at Glasgow’s geothermal research observatory began last December and work on all 12 boreholes, in Dalmarnock, in the east end, and Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire, are expected to be completed this autumn. One of the research aims is to investigate the potential for untapped mine water to be harnessed as geothermal energy that could be used to heat more than 180 million homes, according to the Coal Authority. Measurements will be taken from the underground observatory boreholes such as temperature, water movement and water chemistry over the period. Environmental baseline monitoring of near-surface chemistry, gases and waters will also be measured and all data gathered is open to be accessed by scientists, governments, regulatory bodies and members of the public. Researchers will observe the flooded mine workings beneath the east end by monitoring the network of boreholes and seeing how warm water moves around the abandoned mine workings over time, monitoring changes in the chemistry and to the physical and microbiological properties of the environment just below the surface. To generate the geothermal heating, water will be pumped from the mines through a heat exchanger and then pumped back underground. Alison Monaghan, geologist and science team lead for the Glasgow Observatory, said: “There were lots of mines in the area and one of the questions the project is trying to answer is if this colliery is still connected to lots of others still underground. “We hope to find out the size of the resource when we drill them. The areas of coal fields were not continuous but are over tens of kilometres and we could potentially be getting a window into a big area or we might not be – until we drill we don’t know.”