UK chemicals plant ready to start carbon capture rollout

A Cheshire chemicals factory is to start capturing carbon dioxide on an industrial scale from energy generation in what is described as the UK’s first major use of the emissions-reduction technology.

Tata Chemicals Europe (TCE) hopes to capture 40,000 tonnes of the greenhouse gas per year, reducing its annual emissions by 10% and providing it with a supply of high-purity carbon dioxide that could be used in products ranging from glass and washing detergents to pharmaceuticals and food.

Carbon capture is seen by the UK’s Committee on Climate Change as an important part of the plan for net zero carbon emissions across society. It could be particularly useful for “hard-to-abate” industrial sectors like steel, cement or chemicals, whose need for very high temperatures makes reliance on electricity tricky. However, some scientists question whether the technology will be created at sufficient scale in time to prevent catastrophic global heating.

The TCE plant has been testing the technology and ensuring the purity of the carbon dioxide produced for 10 months, but is now ready to start full operations. Food-grade carbon dioxide has been in short supply in the UK in recent months.

Carbon dioxide is produced from the heat and power plant it uses to make chemicals, including sodium carbonate, salt and sodium bicarbonate at the plant in Northwich. The company, which is owned by Indian conglomerate Tata, said it planned to export sodium bicarbonate made with the captured gas to be used in haemodialysis to treat people living with kidney disease.

TCE has reduced its carbon intensity – a measure of the amount of carbon emissions produced in its processes – by 50% compared with 2000, and it wants to achieve 80% by 2030.

The government gave a £4.2m grant to the project, which cost £20m overall. The project will be the forebear to larger carbon capture developments in the north of England that have been chosen for funding by the UK government, provided they can prove their value for money.

Those projects, the East Coast Cluster around Humber and Teesside and HyNet North Westin Liverpool Bay, are backed by large oil companies, who hope to capture the carbon and store it underground. Successful storage of carbon could also allow them to continue to drill for profitable but polluting oil.

Martin Ashcroft, TCE’s managing director, said it was “a major step in our carbon emissions reduction journey”.

“The completion of the carbon capture and utilisation demonstration plant enables us to reduce our carbon emissions while securing our supply of high-purity carbon dioxide, a critical raw material, helping us to grow the export of our pharmaceutical grade products across the world,” he said.

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