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On the ROAD again

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Europe has been going through a difficult time. All eyes in Europe are now very much focused on the second round of the NER300 programme, for which proposals must be submitted by early July 2013.

One project is somewhat different from the rest. It has progressed along several lines and is now 'almost' in a position to take a final investment decision (FID) - the point at which, if the decision is positive,  it would really start to move ahead at full speed and Europe would have its first major CCS demonstration project.

The project is the ROAD project at Maasvlakte in the Netherlands. The name, for those who do not know, is an acronym deriving from its full title of Rotterdam Opslag en Afvang Demonstratieproject.  Located on reclaimed land at the entrance to Europe's largest port, and next to a major coal unloading and handling facility, E.ON Benelux's brand new Maasvlakte power plant will burn coal and biomass to produce 1,100 MW of electricity. The very advanced plant, which will go into operation later this year, uses supercritical steam technology with seawater cooling and will be one of the most efficient coal-fired power plants in the world (the efficiency is approximately 46 per cent) - which already results in a significant carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reduction compared with the large majority of other plants in Europe and elsewhere.  It is also very much a 'capture-ready', plant as it was clearly designed with capture in mind.

The plant is also 'CCS-ready', having not only identified and evaluated a storage site, but obtained the necessary permits for CO2 storage at the site from the Dutch Government, and the benediction of the European Commission (EC). This storage would take place in the P18 depleted gas field, which is 20 km offshore. The gas would be piped the 25 km from the plant to the storage site.

Other important factors in favour of this plant going ahead are that it is part of - in fact, the key element of - the Rotterdam Climate Initiative (RCI), which could be the world's first major CCS hub, collecting carbon emissions from a number of facilities that are operating around Rotterdam and its port. In fact, one of the other partners in the ROAD project, GDF SUEZ, also has a brand new highly efficient coal-fired power plant at Maasvlakte that has been built capture- and CCS-ready and will start operating later this year. The RCI and the ROAD project have strong government, regional and local support.

So why is this project - which has received financial support from the EC, Dutch Government and Global CCS Institute - only at the 'almost' stage for its FID? The main - or only - problem is the carbon price. Like many projects, the business case for the ROAD project was prepared based on a carbon price significantly above what it is today. Because of the collapse of the price under the European Union's Emission Trading System, the companies involved would face substantial loses unless new investors come forward or additional public funds areawarded to support the project. Reports appear to indicate that the funding shortfall is around €100 million.

I went to visit Maasvlakte on a very wet and cold May day this year. It is unlikely to ever feature too highly on TripAdvisor's places to visit in the Netherlands. However, in spite of the weather, both these sparkling new advanced power plants - sitting there waiting to capture carbon - raised the spirits and optimism for our future in facing the climate change challenge.

We really must all hope that ROAD will move beyond 'almost' and then go ahead, as soon as possible. It really is a key project for CCS in Europe and the rest of the world.

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