Climate campaigners have highlighted a ‘legacy of failure’ on controversial carbon capture technology as the UK Government prepares to make a decision on investing more public money in the Acorn project in the North East of Scotland.

It has been almost 20 years since the Scottish Carbon Capture Society was formed but the industry has captured and stored zero tonnes of carbon in that time. In the intervening two decades, there have been failed proposals for carbon capture projects at Peterhead and Longannet fossil fuel power stations and at the Grangemouth industrial site.

The UK Government said they will make an announcement on support for further carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects in Spring 2023. Acorn failed to get ‘Track 1’ status and a share in £1 billion funding from the UK Government in October 2021.

Politicians and companies have been pleading for more public money for the Acorn project, despite Acorn partners Shell making $40 billion in profit in 2022, and Harbour Energy making $2 billion in profit before tax in the first half of 2022. The Acorn project appears to be totally reliant on further public subsidy to progress.

Carbon capture technology has been identified as a ‘dangerous distraction’ from the real, working climate solutions of rapidly reducing our use of fossil fuels through increased home insulation and the expansion of affordable and accessible public transport.

Campaigners say that both Governments should be investing in these measures that can improve people’s lives and cut emissions now rather than subsidising carbon capture which will only benefit hugely profitable fossil fuel companies.

The Scottish Government’s plan to meet their climate targets is dangerously over-reliant on carbon capture and storage. Ministers were warned by Holyrood committees, the UK Climate Change Committee and climate campaigners that they need a ‘plan B’ for when carbon capture fails to deliver. The Government has already admitted that carbon capture will not deliver in time to help meet 2030 targets but has neglected to act to address the shortfall in climate action.

Friends of the Earth Scotland climate campaigner Alex Lee said

“The story of carbon capture is a long and inglorious legacy of failure. The UK Government must not continue to throw public money at fossil fuel companies to try and prolong their climate-wrecking industry through the pipe dreams at Acorn or anywhere else.

“The only successful capture by this industry is public money, because it is certainly not capturing carbon. It’s long past time to stop subsidising some of the most profitable polluters on the planet.

“After nearly 20 years of industry promises and a complete failure to deliver, it is time to redirect that investment and energy to climate solutions that we know can deliver emissions cuts and improve peoples’ lives today, rather than falling for eternal promises of it just being around the corner.

“Scottish Ministers need to wake up and realise that carbon capture and these other so-called negative emissions technologies are a dangerous distraction from the urgent and necessary working of cutting emissions at source and delivering a just transition away from fossil fuels.”

Timeline of CCS failure

2005 – Scottish Carbon Capture Society founded

2007 – UK Government launch CCS industry demonstration project competition aiming to be operational by 2014.

2007BP pull out of Peterhead CCS project 

2010Scottish Government CCS Road Map published. Existing coal stations would have to fit CCS no later than 2025 with a 100% capture rate required on new stations. 

2010 – UK Government makes £1 billion available in capital investment for a CCS project.

2011 – UK Government pulls out of negotiations with Scottish Power & Shell because CCS project would cost over £1 billion. 

2012 – UK Government launches second CCS development competition.

2015Peterhead CCS failure round 2. UK Government announced the £1 billion capital funding for the second competition was no longer available. 

2017 – National Audit Office reveals £168million spent on failed CCS competitions including Peterhead. 

2020 – Scottish Government Climate Change Plan update pledges approx 19% of efforts to meet 2030 climate targets will be achieved by Negative Emissions Technologies (e.g.CCS) and approx 25% of reductions by 2032.

2021 – Scottish Government’s Monitoring Report admits that NETs will not deliver at the pace assumed in the Climate Change Plan update”

2022 – Acorn cluster fails to meet its previously predicted timeline saying it would have drilled its first well in the North Sea by 2022.

Feb 2023 – One year since SSE & Equinor application to Scottish Government for new gas power station at Peterhead, with the claim CCS will be added to plant. Application has not progressed.  

2023 – Acorn cluster fails to meet its previously predicted injection of 200 kilotonnes of carbon into sea beds. Currently this project has limited funding and no planning permission.

Notes to editors

UK Government 2023 answer on when CCS timelines

A more detailed timeline of CCS failure, along with sources, is available at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1km5E_MmrD-Dkuf2LRGCqffqNIXyoCqeEzR1IR6lw63Q/edit?usp=sharing

Screengrab from the Acorn website in 2020 showing their predicted timeline of Carbon Capture deployment https://drive.google.com/file/d/1p1OoAldVtToaB2yCTDnhOzjOp0c-P-P9/view?usp=sharing

Partners in the Acorn project https://www.theacornproject.uk/about-acorn/our-partners

Sources for CCS timeline

2005 – Scottish Carbon Capture Society founded https://www.data.gov.uk/dataset/4e0ab729-9a21-4114-ac4d-05ba49c84e57/scottish-carbon-capture-storage-sccs#licence-info

2007 – BP pull out of Peterhead CCS project https://www.carboncapturejournal.com/news/bp-scraps-peterhead-carbon-capture-project/2178.aspx

2010 – Scottish Government CCS Road Map published. https://www.carboncapturejournal.com/news/scotland-publishes-ccs-roadmap/2691.aspx?Category=a

2015Peterhead CCS failure round 2. https://www.geos.ed.ac.uk/sccs/project-info/32

2017 – National Audit Office reveals £168million spent on failed CCS competitions https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Carbon-Capture-and-Storage-the-second-competition-for-government-support.pdf

2020 – Scottish Government Climate Change Plan update (p253) https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/strategy-plan/2020/12/securing-green-recovery-path-net-zero-update-climate-change-plan-20182032/documents/update-climate-change-plan-2018-2032-securing-green-recovery-path-net-zero/update-climate-change-plan-2018-2032-securing-green-recovery-path-net-zero/govscot%3Adocument/update-climate-change-plan-2018-2032-securing-green-recovery-path-net-zero.pdf

2021 – Scottish Government’s Monitoring Report https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/progress-report/2022/05/climate-change-plan-monitoring-reports-2022/documents/climate-change-plan-monitoring-reports-2022/climate-change-plan-monitoring-reports-2022/govscot%3Adocument/climate-change-plan-monitoring-reports-2022.pdf

2022 – Acorn cluster fails to meet its predicted timeline.

Screengrabs now deleted from Acorn website

Feb 2023 – One year since SSE & Equinor application to Scottish Government for new gas power station at Peterhead, with the claim CCS will be added to the plant. Application has not progressed.

Friends of the Earth Scotland is:
* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 73 national member groups, and 5,000 local activist groups