In terms of making progress towards a zero carbon future there is a clear path head for decarbonising energy emissions and transport emissions (on roads if not by air or sea). The big unknown is heat which currently is now 80% supplied by Gas.
There are basically two choices – as the National Infrastructure Commission stress – Heat Pumps or re purposing the gas network towards hydrogen. The first higher benefits, the latter lesser. I think the latter makes sense for three reasons.
- It utilises the sunk costs in terms of investment in gas networks
- Gas boilers are more efficient
- If you can produce a zero carbon gas source it rescues the potential for CHP/Cogeneration – which makes increasingly little sense with Carbon Gas power
As new style strategic plans are produced around the country a key question each will need to answer is what will be the zero carbon source of heat for all of these strategic growth locations and new communities? Currently there is no clear answer.
Another issue is whether current Co2 energy producers will be forced to ‘keep it in the ground’ an issue which makes many in the middle east fall asleep in a cold sweat. Though I think heat pumps are the long term solution the main advantage of a bridging technology of re purposing Coal, oil (to gas via syngas) and Gas (LNG then regassified) is it gives Russia, China and the Middle East a reason to invest to maintain their markets. I cant see anything more dangerous geopolitically than a zero carbon future where the economies and infrastructure of Russia, China and the Middle East are wiped out.
The key technological piece in the jigsaw puzzle is what you do with the Co2 which is the byproduct of syngas hydrogen from Coal, Oil or Gas? You can store it underground but it makes much more sense to use it commercially. A small amount can be used to make carbon fibres and plastic, you can use it to cure concrete, but natures way is to embed it in plants such as trees, if those trees are then used for building materials which are ultimately recycled it is a carbon sink.
Imagine a LNG/Oil terminal – like the Isle of Grain link to a regassification plant and pipeline to Coryton North of the Thames (a former oil terminal becoming the Thames Enterprise Park) where there is a cogneration CHP plant feeding hear and power to the several garden communities to the North that will emerge in the South Essex Plan (as well as Basildon and Southend) – the wast Co2 is then fed to ‘vertical farms’ glasshouses up to 15 storeys high, growing vegetables using the ‘dutch methods’ or fast growing bamboo. The bamboo then being processed into laminates using the Cross Laminated Timber (though grass here) method. In one stroke we have a zero carbon material to build the Garden Communities and a more than sufficient compensation for the limited loss of farmland to build them. Surplus bamboo can be burnt anaerobically and carbon fixed in the soil as biochar. As a result all hydrocarbon based fertilisers can be phased out in a generation. This is known as Quadgeneration
What is more is providing a secure market for there products investors in the gulf would be queuing up to invest in the infrastructure; and as an extra bonus the syngas process can be used as the elusive means of storing surplus renewable power through acting as the energy input to the syngas process.
The Thames Estuary is the only part of England with the port access, hydrocarbon infrastructure and strong housing demand (as well as good soils) to make this work.