ENERGY experts are preparing a £1bn bid to bring clean coal technology to the North East.
Power station bosses at Northumberland’s Rio Tinto Alcan facility want to secure the investment out of funds the Government has set aside for research into Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).
Their CCS project involves burning treated coal in such a way that its CO2 emissions are removed, with any harmful gases captured and stored underground.
Plans for the Lynemouth power station include building a pipeline into the North Sea to trap the gases in underwater rocks. It is hoped the Government or the European Union will help fund the changes needed.
One of the three generators which currently provides around 140 megawatts would be upgraded to provide around 375megawatts, energy which will be used to power the aluminium smelter keeping more than 600 people in work.
John McCabe, corporate affairs director at the site, said the public sector money was vital for the changes as the recession was preventing many companies, including Rio Tinto, from funding the upgrades themselves.
He said: “We’re working together to put a regional bid in to the Government. Our power generation is already very efficient but we know that eventually we have to move away from current methods of power generation.
“This type of development needs to be done with some Government help, and that is why we are making this bid.”
Dermot Roddy, director of Newcastle’s energy research group the Sir Joseph Swan Institute, said the North Sea had capacity in just its depleted oil and gas wells to hold 700 million tonnes of CO2.
The CCS methods looked at in the North East involve storing the gas in vast underground saltwater ‘rocks’ known as saline aquifers. There is enough capacity here for the North Sea to take all of Europe’s power station emissions for 400 years.
“I don’t think we will still need them then, but it shows the opportunity here,” Prof Roddy said.
“If we can be one of the first places to build these sort of pre-combustion CCS power stations it will see us lead the way. The rest of the world is still opening new power stations, China has one a week, and they will look to who has already set up CCS sites and come to them for help. So there is great potential for engineers and experts here to lead the way.”
Newcastle University already has global experts looking into undersea storage, and are confident they can tackle issues of ensuring the gas does not escape through the holes used to push the CO2 into the rocks.
The North East’s CCS bid includes a project in Teesside, which is expected to send some five million tonnes a year into storage along a similar pipeline.
Last night Liberal Democrat MEP Fiona Hall said the bid would help pave the way for a green revolution.
“This would be extremely beneficial for the region. And with stricter rules coming in on industrial CO2 production these sort of changes will give greater job security to many employed in Northumberland and Teesside.
“And this will give us the chance and the time to invest in truly low carbon technology and renewable energy”
European spending bosses are expected to announce another round of CCS funding next month, though any North East bid would need to be picked by UK ministers.
A One North East spokesman said: “This is part of One North East’s long-term strategy to develop low carbon industries, which also include electric vehicles, printable electronics and renewable energy.
“This new technology can help us combat climate change but also create new jobs and help to protect our energy-intensive industries.”