Italy’s Eni is moving forward with plans to develop its second major UK industrial carbon capture and storage project, which it hopes could help kick start the development of a hydrogen economy in parts of east and south-east England, including London.

To underpin the scheme, dubbed the Bacton Thames Net Zero Initiative, Eni is drawing up plans to transform its depleted Hewett gas field in the southern North Sea into a carbon storage site.

It announced on Wednesday that it is has applied to the UK authorities for a carbon storage licence for Hewett, now at the end of its 40-year gas production life and with the capacity to store 330 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the emissions of more than 6 million cars per year.

The project would be centred on Bacton in Norfolk, site of one of the UK’s major natural gas import terminals, where Eni has operations, as well as the industrialised Thames Estuary area east of London.

“The collaboration of industrial partners under the Bacton Thames Net Zero initiative could contribute significantly to the development of a hydrogen economy in the UK and become a game-changer in addressing the decarbonisation needs of [the] UK’s south-east, while supporting the UK net zero targets,” Martin Currie, Eni UK’s energy transition manager and director of Liverpool Bay CCS, told Upstream in an exclusive interview.

HyNet experience

Eni plans to build on the technical and commercial experience it has gained so far from its participation in HyNet North West, where Eni is providing CO2 transport and storage through repurposed natural gas production facilities in Liverpool Bay.

HyNet, under development with Progressive Energy and due to be sanctioned next year, was selected by the government last year as one of the first two industrial decarbonisation schemes to be fast-tracked for state funding in Britain’s CCS cluster sequencing process, a process known as Track 1.

The BP-led East Coast Cluster, focusing on Teesside and Humberside on the north-east coast of England, was the other.

Eni is hoping Bacton Thames Net Zero will be eligible for participation in the next tranche of the competition for government funding, which is calling for projects to be on stream in 2027.

Although at an early stage, Currie said Bacton Thames Net Zero could be operational by then.

“That’s ambitious, but that’s the way we like to work,” he said.

'Industry-led, demand-driven'

Currie said Bacton Thames Net Zero was “very consistent” with the North Sea Transition Authority’s (NSTA) hopes of developing Bacton as an energy hub and for addressing the “net zero objectives” of businesses in the east and south-east of England, which includes London.

He called the project “industry-led” and “demand-driven”.

On the emitter side, the project grouping contains “power generators, energy from waste companies, and also developers who are interested in enabling hydrogen production and distribution”, he said, although he was not yet permitted to name those participants.

It is an “integrated grouping” with a “common interest” in decarbonisation.

Where long-term decarbonisation is concerned, emitters in the region have “nowhere to go”, Currie said.

It described it as a “logical and proximal” location.

“Companies are looking for solutions as soon as possible,” he noted, and the project has already attracted “substantial interest”, with Eni hoping to attract more.

Currie pointed out that the scheme featured “a more dispersed situation” geographically than HyNet North West and the East Cost Cluster, which are both charactersised by relatively tightly packed areas of heavy industry, making pipeline transportation of CO2 the obvious transport solution.

Storage is driver

At Bacton Thames Net Zero, the project team is already assessing the feasibility and comparative benefits of other CO2 transport solutions, such as shipping.

He noted that Eni “is driving the process” for Bacton Thames, a slightly different situation to HyNet, which was driven initially by emitters “who then came knocking at the door to Eni”.

Currie said the progress on the project demonstrated Eni's confidence there is a viable commercial future for CCS in the UK.

The CCS storage permit application for Hewett was made as part of the UK’s first CCS licensing round, launched in June.

The application window closed on 13 September but an announcement and further details on how many applications were received has been delayed by the period of national mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.  

The NSTA said previously it expects new licences to be awarded in early 2023.

“The level of interest already expressed suggests there will be strong competition meaning that prospective licensees will need to produce high-quality bids to win licences,” the NSTA said in June. 

The NSTA published a study last year that set out how the Bacton Gas Terminal would be well suited to emerge as a hub to supply low-carbon energy — particularly hydrogen — to key markets in London and south-east England in the decades ahead.

The study found that Bacton’s proximity to both southern North Sea gas fields and wind farms would make it an ideal location for the production of both blue and green hydrogen.

The UK is widely seen as being ahead of many other nations in developing a domestic CCS-enabled industrial decarbonisation sector, a position it hopes to exploit to cut not only its own carbon emissions but also to export services and expertise overseas.

The government has thrown down the gauntlet to the private sector after committing to get at least four CCUS schemes up and running by 2030 to capture at least 10 million tonnes per annum of CO2.

The UK’s independent climate advisers have described CCS as being “necessary, not an option” in helping to achieve its legally binding climate goals of cutting CO2 emissions 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels and reaching net zero emissions by 2050.