What is carbon capture and how is it being used to limit climate change?

The UK news cycle has been dominated recently by images of massive wildfires in southern Europe caused by record temperatures, dry conditions, and strong winds.

The Greek holiday island of Rhodes has been particularly affected, forcing locals to leave their homes and tourists to flee the island on boats.

These are just some of the impacts of climate change and the extreme conditions attributed to the increase in greenhouse gases caused by human activity.

One of the biggest contributors to climate change is the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere. Switching over to renewable energies is acknowledged as the most effective way to counter the amount of CO2 but there is also a need for other measures such as carbon capture to accelerate the drive towards net zero by 2050.

Carbon capture storage (CCS) is a portfolio of technologies designed to mitigate CO2 emissions from industrial sources like refineries, power plants and other heavy industrial facilities. It is expected to play a key role in meeting international climate targets by 2050.


An autumn wildfire blazes in the Appalachian Mountains


Many of the world’s leading renewable energy agencies agree that rapid expansion in CCS facilities is critical to keeping the rise in global temperature to 1.5 °C. In the UK, a report produced by the Climate Committee (CCC) for reducing UK emissions to net zero by 2050 includes at least 70 million tonnes of CO2 being captured annually by that year.

There are currently no ‘operating’ commercial applications of CCS in the UK, although they are set to enter operation by the mid-2020s.

Project Announcements

Carbon capture moved up the political agenda this week in the UK, with the Government’s announcement of millions of pounds of funding for a carbon capture project in the northeast of Scotland.

The process behind carbon capture prevents most of the CO2 emitted from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, from entering the atmosphere by reuse or storing it underground – in this case, under the North Sea as part of the Acorn project on Scotland’s northeast coast, and Viking project in Humberside.

The Acorn Project missed out in 2021 when the first phase of funding went to projects in the north of England. The government estimates that the combined projects will safely capture and store 10 mega (million) tonnes of CO2 by 2030 – one third of the UK’s target of 30 million tonnes of carbon capture by that year – but noticeably short of the 70 mega tonnes required annually by 2050.

There is clearly a lot of work to do if the 2050 target is to be achieved. It also shines a light on the amount of CO2 that annually enters the atmosphere because of heavy industrial activity.


There are many similarities between the pursuit of effective carbon capture and Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF). Both innovations are faced with major challenges and require enduring political and public commitment to succeed. What is clear is the need for progress, acceleration, and momentum.

There is reason to be optimistic, but any optimism felt following the Acorn funding may have been short-lived by the other part of the announcement that included the introduction of new licences for oil and gas drilling in the North Sea, which many see as incompatible with the UK’s new zero targets.

Although very few would disagree with the need to achieve net zero by 2050, how we get there is another matter. Supporters of renewed fossil fuel exploration argue that even if we do achieve the 2050 target that a quarter of our energy supplies will still be required from oil and gas. There are other considerations such as:

  • Security and supply resilience / independence
  • Increased carbon footprint of importing liquified gas from overseas
  • Oil & Gas Industry employs 200,000 people in the UK

These are compelling arguments in favour of new drilling and exploration licences but there are equally strong counter arguments, such as directing more focus towards development of renewable energy sources, and home insulation / energy efficiencies.

The emotive images of British holidaymakers escaping wildfires on boats must have struck a chord with the British public, who often have a laissez-faire approach to environmental policy. But the planned expansion of oil and gas drilling in the north-sea set against the backdrop of fire and flood has this time prompted a more discernible reaction.

What the events of the last few months have certainly achieved, is raising public awareness to the climate crisis.

Sometimes we must see it with our own eyes to believe it.