The UK’s North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) on Tuesday is launching the UK’s first-ever carbon storage licensing round with 13 areas of potential available.  

The new carbon storage areas, alongside the six licences which have already been issued, could have the ability to make a significant contribution towards the aim of storing 20 million to 30 million tonnes per annum of carbon dioxide by 2030.

The areas being offered for licensing are off the coast of Aberdeen, Teesside, Liverpool and Lincolnshire in the southern North Sea, central North Sea, northern North Sea and East Irish Sea and are made up of a mixture of saline aquifers and depleted oil and gas field storage opportunities.

The NSTA said this licensing round is envisaged to be the first of many as it is estimated that as many as 100 CO2 stores could be required to meet the UK’s net zero target by 2050.

Carbon capture and storage involves the capture of CO2 emissions from industrial processes and will play a crucial role in decarbonising the UK’s major industrial hubs such as Teesside and Humberside. This CO2 is then transported via ship or a pipeline and stored in subsurface geological formations.   

The NSTA added it has launched this carbon storage licensing round in response to “unprecedented levels of interest” from companies eager to enter the market.

“The areas on offer have a combination of attributes such as the right geological conditions, proximity to existing infrastructure which may be able to be repurposed and links to industrial clusters which are looking to carbon storage to help meet their decarbonisation goals.

“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 authority said that in selecting the areas to be offered, it fully considered issues including co-location with offshore wind — whether there are any known challenges and mitigations around existing or future offshore wind developments — environmental issues, potential overlaps with existing or future petroleum licences, and other activities to ensure key technologies can all be taken forward.  

“This is an important day on the path to net zero emissions. In addition to the huge environmental benefits of significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, the facilities will provide opportunities for many thousands of highly skilled jobs,” said NSTA chief executive Andy Samuel.  

“Carbon storage is going to be needed across the world. There is growing investor appetite and we are keen to accelerate development of the carbon storage sector so that UK is well-positioned to be a global leader.

“The NSTA is ready to work with industry, government, regulators and others to deliver these exciting projects at pace.”  

There are currently six carbon storage licences on the UK continental shelf, which could meet up to one-fifth of storage needs if they reach their maximum potential of up to 40 million tpa injection rates by the mid-2030s.

Whilst the capacity estimates of the areas offered in this round come with some uncertainty, they have the potential to make a very significant contribution to decarbonisation of the UK.  

The application window is open for 90 days, closing on 13 September, and will be evaluated by the NSTA on technical and financial criteria.  

It is expected that any new licences will be awarded in early 2023. The size and scale of the licensed stores mean that they are likely to proceed at different paces, but first injection of CO2 could come as early as four to six years after the licence award.   

In addition to being awarded a licence from the NSTA, successful applicants will also need to obtain a lease from The Crown Estate or Crown Estate Scotland, depending on location, before they can progress a project.   

CO2 will typically be stored at depths greater than 800 metres, where it no longer behaves as a gas, but instead as a supercritical fluid. Geological formations such as the Triassic Bunter formation and Tertiary Forties sandstones that are well understood in the UK from many decades of oil and gas production are also likely to be ideal for the storage of carbon dioxide, according to the NSTA.

“We’re determined to make the UK a world leader in carbon capture, which will be crucial in helping us reduce emissions and protect the viability and competitiveness of British industry,” said Energy & Climate Change Minister Greg Hands.

“This licensing round is an important step in making this a reality, helping support new jobs across the UK and encouraging investment in our industrial heartlands.”