IN THE Government’s welcome 10-point climate action plan there is an ambition to establish a carbon capture and storage (CCS) research facility in this country, writes Giles Archibald, leader of South Lakeland District Council.

Traditionally, a carbon capture facility is one which allows the continued use of fossil fuels to create energy, but captures and stores the CO2 emitted from the combustion of the fossil fuel.

There are less than 20 such large-scale facilities in existence, even though the idea has been around for decades. The problem is that, once the gas is released, separating out the CO2 from the other gases is a costly process and does, itself, require electricity.

One alternative is to remove the CO2 element from the fuel before it is ignited. But this is also expensive.

The CO2 gas, once captured, is compacted and then transported, usually via pipeline or on ships, to a place where it can be permanently stored, for example in an old coal mine.

There are lots of problems with this approach. Not only is there a high cost of extracting, transporting and burying the CO2, there might be leakage, which could result in a long-term liability.

One example illustrates the difficulty in building a CCS facility. In 2003, the US government announced a project called FutureGen - valued at more than $1b - to extract CO2 from a coal-fired power station. After years of delay and confusion, the project was shelved in 2015.

Initial thinking has been that perhaps 85 per cent to 90 per cent of CO2 produced could be captured and stored by a typical CCS unit. However, a 2019 US study calculated that, if you take account of all the energy used to build the facility, capture the CO2, compact it, transport it and store it, the net amount of CO2 saved is probably only around 10 per cent.

CCS may well have a valuable role to play in capturing the unavoidable release of CO2. We do need to be careful that it does not give licence to fossil fuel usage that could otherwise be avoided.

Carbon capture and storage originated in the United States to protect the fossil fuel industry. A great deal of money and manpower seems to have been expended on the mistaken goal of preserving an industry that surely cannot survive for long.

Let’s hope that, when we develop this new technology in the UK, we don’t make the same mistake.