Webinar hosted by The British Embassy in Helsinki and the NET-RAPIDO Project

Note from the British Ambassador to Finland

We at the British Embassy in Helsinki are delighted to have hosted this webinar together with NET-RAPIDO. This event is one in a series of events related to climate change that we will be hosting or co-hosting in Finland and in British embassies all over the world in the coming year.

As you will know, the UK is also hosting the UN’s climate change conference, COP26, in partnership with Italy, in Glasgow in November 2021.

We need to act together and to utilise innovative clean solutions to make COP26 a real success in combating climate change. Climate change is an existential threat. We see the effects all around us, including here in Finland we have just had the warmest June on record. COP26 is a vital moment to make a difference. This means coming forward with ambitious targets with credible roadmaps.

At the moment, the UK and the Nordic countries are leaders in pursuing action to reach the Paris Agreement goals, having committed to reaching net-zero by mid-century or earlier. The UK has legislated the target of net-zero emissions by 2050, in June 2019 – the first major economy to do so. In the same vein, as the COP26 host, we continue to invite the international community to put forward strong commitments to reach the goals our planet needs us to.

Within strategies targeting climate neutrality, Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) are an essential supplement to emissions reductions. NETs can play a key role in the months leading up to COP26 and beyond, as the world focuses on challenges such as an energy transition, zero-emissions transport, green finance and nature-based solutions.

Internationally, NETs are at different stages of development from R&D to commercialisation, therefore best-practice sharing is needed to identify barriers and help to bring NETs to scale in socially constructive and effective ways.

This is not just about technology. It is worth keeping in mind that the UK and Finland were leaders in the global mobile revolution in the 1990s, not only because of technology but because of creating the right conditions for mobile tech to thrive in terms of regulation and funding.

Thus, for NETS to thrive, much needs to be explored on concrete policy, regulation and funding – and this is what this event has brought forward. We look forward to following discussions and developments around NETs in the future.

Thank you for your interest.

Tom Dodd, British Ambassador to Finland

 

Webinar Recap

On Wednesday 24th June, The British Embassy Helsinki and the research project “Negative emission technologies: readiness assessment, policy instrument design, options for governance and dialogue” (NET-RAPIDO) held the joint webinar ‘Driving Action for Carbon Neutrality: British Nordic Experiences of Negative Emissions Technologies in Practice’, sharing on-the-ground experiences with developing Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) in the UK, Finland and Sweden. 

 

The NET-RAPIDO project conducts interdisciplinary research on negative emissions technologies, to advance the consideration of dedicated policies for negative emissions. The research approach, which was presented by Axel Michaelowa of Perspectives Climate Research, integrates knowledge generation on the technologies – their readiness and costs – with research on possible policy instrument designs as well as broader options for governance and dialogue.

A long-time expert in international climate policy, Dr Michaelowa, elaborated how NETs have emerged as ‘the latecomer child’ in the “patchwork family” of climate policy instruments. He observed that the next 5 years will be crucial for NETs policies to be devised – on a robust basis of experience and learning across countries – so that a consistent policy ecosystem can grow globally. It was in this spirit, he remarked, that he was thankful to the Embassy for enabling a first opportunity for such cross-country exchange.

Next, climate policy expert Oras Tynkkynen, of The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and former Green Party MP of Finland, offered an outlook on NETs in four key messages:

1.     We need negative emissions – desperately

2.     The future will come sooner than we think

3.     The world is way off track

4.     There is a lack of knowledge in Government on the steps that could be taken 

Mr Tynkkynen illustrated these points using key graphics from the IPCC and the International Energy Agency, showing that, while NETs feature prominently in pathways to meet the Paris Agreement, there are to date few signs of implementation. He pointed out that CO2 capture by Direct Air Capture remained quasi-non-existent. Going forward, he emphasized, it is imperative that NETs are developed in an environmentally and socially acceptable way, supported by the right policy, regulation and finance, and having the right assessment of the scope of stakeholders required for their development.

Three panellists from the NETs industry – Dr Ilkka Hannula, Principal Investigator at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland; Dr Fabian Levihn, Head of R&D at Stockholm Exergi; and Karl Smyth, Head of Policy and Government Relations and Drax UK – then shared their hands-on experiences with BECCS.

Dr Ilkka Hannula presented the core ideas of NEGEM, a new project funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme running until 2024. The project gathers research institutions, industries and think tanks aiming to explore, in a comprehensive manner, the pathways for negative emissions technologies applied in real-world contexts. This includes both limitations and opportunities, with the ultimate goal of measuring the potential contribution of NETs to the climate neutrality goal of the European Green Deal. Hannula, who leads NEGEM, presented the steps of the project, starting with the identification of NETPs (negative emissions technologies and practices) and progressing towards the creation of pathways to contribute to the Paris Agreement.

In addition to NEGEM, Hannula presented VTT’s core research on biofuels – namely biomass to liquid – that relies on the development of advanced synthetic biofuels with a high share of carbon that could be captured in the refining process. Besides the obvious issue of the lack of current demand for synthetic biofuels, limitations identified by Hannula came from the structure of goals and priorities from project funders, lack of pathways towards commercial development, short-term perspective, the requirement of more complex structures (with more players) to hold the development of NETs, as well as the viability of developing carbon utilisation, which is likely to have low potential.

VTT’s research on carbon capture at biorefineries. Taken from presentation of Ilkka Hannula, VTT, Finland.

The presentation by Dr Fabian Levihn (Stockholm Exergi) focussed on the development of a pilot scheme for BECCS and heat recovery in a biomass power plant in Stockholm, alongside the lessons for further development of the technology. For further development of the technology, Levihn highlighted the need for policy guidelines and the completion of a technological circuit (including carbon storage). Stockholm Exergi is collaborating with other industrial companies through the ‘Northern Lights Project’, a Norwegian full-scale Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project, with plans to develop value chains from industrial capture sources to permanent storage subsea in the North Sea.

Potential to integrate bio-fuel based district heating (Värtaverket plant) with CCS. Taken from presentation of Fabian Levihn, Stockholm Exergi, Sweden.

Karl Smyth (Drax) presented the latest developments from their BECCS piloting programme, which they expect to turn into a permanent operation by 2027. Smyth identified the current lack of incentives for investments in NETs as barriers for further development, calling for policy interventions in the UK that promote NETs development already in the near term (2020-2030) to enable NETs deployment at scale in the longer term.  Smyth presented options for shorter term incentives, including carbon contract for difference and carbon payments, which features a mix of public support adapting to the gradual evolution of market revenue.

Incentives for BECCS. Taken from presentation of Karl Smyth, Drax, UK

Question & Answer session

Hanna-Mari Ahonen from Perspectives Climate Research asked about the potential for NETs solutions to benefit from green recovery funding. The panellists called for funding for demonstration projects but noted that green recovery funding tends to favour activities that deliver short-term impacts while the impacts associated with NETs are typically generated in the longer run.

Dr Kenneth Möllersten from Mälardalen University asked the panellists to reflect on potential impacts and social acceptance of large-scale NETs. He also asked if the panellists had observed a change in awareness and attitudes of policy-makers towards NETs over time. Dr Levihn noted that the sustainability of biomass is an important consideration relating to BECCS. In Sweden, biomass is not scarce and sustainable biomass is key for all bioenergy generation, regardless of whether it includes carbon capture and storage. Furthermore, there is significant potential for the utilisation of the biomass content of waste. Smyth also emphasised that ensuring the sustainability of biomass is crucial, and highlighted the importance of transparently communicating the sources of biomass. Smyth noted that, as a result of demonstration projects, the interest in NETs has hugely increased among ministers from the UK and abroad. Demonstration plants are much more powerful vehicles for learning and sharing than data, calculations or reports.

Regarding carbon markets and NETs, it was noted that the EU Emissions Trading System does not provide direct incentives for NETs but provides potential funding for NETs through the NER300 and Innovation Funds. The NER300 Fund was not successful in promoting NETs, and the success of the Innovation Fund is yet to be seen.

Regarding the role of NETs in developing countries, one example was to harness solar power and storage capacity in Africa for providing direct air capture and storage services for the rest of the world.

Take-home messages from practitioners working with NETs development and deployment 

(1)   Policy-makers need to introduce clear policy and economic signals in the near term to enable NETs development and deployment at the scale and pace needed to achieve climate targets in the longer term,

(2)   Demonstration projects are powerful in promoting learning and deployment – seeing is believing. Further support for demonstration projects would thus be money well spent.

(3)   Public and private actors need to cooperation to promote commercialisation of NETs elements, including transport and storage of carbon dioxide, including by developing de-risking instruments

(4)   Support mechanisms should be technology-neutral and they should not pose barriers for innovation e.g. by requiring competitiveness at an excessively early stage

Summary written by Hanna-Mari Ahonen, Matthias Honneger, Olivia Crowe and Adrian Lauer