Article by Tom White CEng MIChemE
IChemE Trustee, Vice President International and a member of the Member Engagement Working Group
Tom White, IChemE Trustee and CEO of C-Capture, presses Boris Johnson for support on scaleup
The UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announced a 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. As C-Capture’s CEO, I was absolutely delighted, and a little surprised, to be invited with less than 24 hours’ notice to participate in an industry roundtable discussion by the Prime Minister’s Business Team.
In the run up to the virtual event, with only a few hours to spare, I was given advanced sight of the embargoed message the Prime Minister was to deliver to the nation. There was little time to prepare a detailed response to the plan, but I engaged with C-Capture’s key stakeholders, including IChemE. I was honoured to represent UK clean-tech startups at the industry round table, which was mostly attended by the leaders of large UK corporations including BP, SSE, Energy UK, Airbus, Blackrock, National Grid, Scottish Power, Unilever and Johnson Matthey.
C-Capture is a spinout from the University of Leeds and is representative of the UK’s home-grown response to the global imperative for an affordable technology to capture carbon dioxide from industrial point sources. Our innovation promises to reduce the energy demand for carbon capture and storage (CCS) by 40%, using our proprietary solvent, which is classified as non-hazardous. The solvent is also sufficiently robust enough to enable deployment in challenging applications which existing technologies can’t address.
Located in the north of England, C-Capture is ideally situated close to the planned low-carbon clusters in Liverpool Bay, Humber and Teesside. We are well placed to play an important role in the government’s agenda to “level-up” the country, by creating jobs and further business opportunities in what we are convinced will be a fast growing CCS sector.
In his emphatic style, the Prime Minister was eager to encourage commitments from the attending private sector companies and banks to join the Government in making investment commitments. Key to the success of the 10-point plan is to triple the funding made available by the UK Government.
From C-Capture’s perspective, we have experienced first-hand the challenges in securing sufficient research and development funding for the highly capital-intensive programmes required to develop and commercialise new chemical technology.
Government support is crucial in ensuring that entrepreneurial companies that are developing innovative technologies manage to survive the ‘valley-of-death’ that lies between R&D and the very large scale deployment needed to have a material effect in the fight against climate change
C-Capture is currently navigating the wide and turbulent waters that lie between the gap of hotly-contested grant funding programmes and commercially-available project finance for proven ‘bankable’ ventures.
I made the point to the Prime Minister that Government support is crucial in ensuring that entrepreneurial companies that are developing innovative technologies manage to survive the ‘valley-of-death’ that lies between R&D and the very large scale deployment needed to have a material effect in the fight against climate change.
While policy announcements are trending in the right direction, UK Government spending on R&D is currently 1.7% of GDP with a target for total R&D investment to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027. This ambition is still significantly less than the levels currently spent by the economies we are competing against on the world’s stage: in 2018 France spent 2.2%, the US 2.8%, Germany 3.1%, and Japan 3.6% of GDP on R&D. Greater ambition is needed to give startups a strong foundation to build on, particularly in the innovation development phase. This ambition is going to be more important than ever in post-Brexit Britain.
I explained that grants and mainstream project finance are required to help underwrite or co-fund commercial-scale demonstration projects for first-of-a-kind technologies. This step along the innovation pathway inherently carries a higher element of risk, that lies outside of commercially-available project financing. The Prime Minister assured me that Government support would be available, and highlighted that measures under point 10 of the plan were designed to support such projects.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s insistence that London will become a global centre of finance for the green industrial revolution is welcome news indeed.
It was fantastic to have the opportunity to speak directly to the Prime Minister on this hugely significant day. The Ten Point Plan is an important starting point, and I am delighted to see support for CCS projects which have the potential to capture millions of tons of CO2 per year, provide investment and jobs, and help level up the country. But more is needed. Alongside direct support for projects, we need policy surety to give confidence to investors, and a transparent mechanism to support ongoing costs of carbon capture and storage.
The UK has the opportunity to be a global leader in decarbonisation and C-Capture can play a significant role in the journey
I’m looking forward to working with the Government and its Net Zero Task Force as it further develops its decarbonisation strategy. The UK has the opportunity to be a global leader in decarbonisation and C-Capture can play a significant role in the journey.