Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED) studies are underway for the addition of carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities to VPI’s 1,250-megawatt natural gas-fired combined heat and power plant at Immingham, in the Humber region of northeast England. The project is part of the Humber Zero decarbonization program that aims to remove eight million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by 2030 using CCS and hydrogen production in the United Kingdom’s largest industrial hub. We asked VPI Immingham’s Engineering Manager Jim Beresford-Lambert to explain how the project fits with broader sustainability plans and the importance of collaboration in bringing large-scale CCS to life.

VPI’s gas-fired power plant at Immingham is part of the Humber Zero decarbonization program in northeastern England.
Source: VPI Immingham LLP

What role does CCS play in VPI’s sustainability and climate plans?
The VPI Immingham power plant provides electricity and steam critical to the operation of the neighbouring Humber Oil Refinery and Lyndsey Oil Refinery, as well as power export to the national grid. 

Starting with the Humber Zero Project, VPI and its refinery partners ultimately plan to fully decarbonise the existing power plant and the rest of the industrial site at Immingham. This first phase will capture up to 3.3 million tonnes per annum of CO2 through the retrofit of new post-combustion carbon capture technology on two of the gas turbine exhausts and the two auxiliary boiler exhausts. The second phase will see a blue hydrogen, pre-combustion solution applied to our third turbine. 

Collectively, these projects will provide a template for future decarbonisation activities on VPI’s entire suite of operating assets (five power plants and growing), all of which will need a decarbonisation solution by 2030/35 to meet the UK’s Net Zero ambition by 2050.

What are the advantages of being involved in the Humber Zero project? How does such a partnership help the development of large-scale CCS such as VPI’s Immingham project?
The Humber Zero partnership is a consortium between VPI Immingham and Phillips 66 Limited, operators of the Humber Oil Refinery. These two facilities are already highly integrated, with deep understanding of how to optimize project delivery and maximize shared infrastructure across both sites. A joint project management team has been set up to manage Humber Zero and leverage the expertise of both companies, and conceptual studies were delivered via an integrated engineering consultant. Together, Humber Zero offers the UK a cost-effective, at scale, industrial deployment solution as well as a world-scale platform to decarbonize the wider Humber cluster and beyond.

Both facilities are considered first-of-a-kind in relation to retrofit of carbon capture at scale for a gas-fired power station and a fluidized catalytic cracker respectively. Working collaboratively enables us to address the common challenges we face to develop the optimal solutions. Additionally, it is clear that in order to make CCS economic, “clusters” of emitters working together with the local CO2 T&S system operators is required in order to co-ordinate a full-chain solution. Humber Zero is predicated on this notion of collective engagement.

What have been the biggest challenges for your company when it comes to implementing CCS?
Many of our challenges mirror those of SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Unit 3 CCS project, which is why it has been so valuable to have had the opportunity to engage with the Knowledge Centre regarding lessons learned.

The first significant challenge was to select the right technology provider for the core carbon capture technology. Following an extensive review of technologies and techno-economic evaluation, Shell’s CANSOLV’s amine-based absorption process was selected as providing the best solution to meet our requirements. Following this, selection of the right FEED contractor to partner with us and Shell in the FEED delivery was key, and following a similarly extensive evaluation, Worley was selected.

Retrofitting what is effectively a chemical process unit to a power plant is a challenge we continue to address to ensure the right design as we focus on operational readiness and preparing the asset for operation of these new facilities.

A specific challenge for VPI Immingham is matching the operating envelope to that of the power plant whilst providing base-load steam and power to the neighbouring refineries and also operating on a dispatchable power basis to the grid.

Clearly, the biggest challenge of any CCS project is the inherent economic challenge of competing with unabated fossil fuels in the absence of significant government support. The UK government has been leading the way in developing support programs to deploy CCS and we look forward to the timely allocation of awards under such programs.

What is the policy and regulatory framework like for CCS in the UK? Are there areas that need to be addressed to advance projects?
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge that the FEED program of work for the VPI Immingham post-combustion capture project is match funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge fund. This is of great benefit in enabling the front-end development of this project and progress towards a final investment decision. 

The UK has targeted 20 – 30 Mt CO2 capture per year by 2030. These ambitious targets are to be realized through Track 1 and Track 2 cluster programs facilitated by the UK Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The UK’s proactive approach to enabling carbon capture is a real enabler for Humber Zero. The key area that needs to be addressed at this point in time is the timing for selection of Track 2 transport and storage clusters and emitter projects. 

Key to the project proceeding will be negotiation of a Dispatchable Power Agreement for the power plant post-retrofit of carbon capture and ensuring that a suitable business model is in place in order to ensure the long-term competitiveness of abated power generation. These commercial aspects are developing in parallel with the technical solutions and project planning.

How has the International CCS Knowledge Centre assisted VPI with its CCS projects? What value has the Knowledge Centre brought to your project? 
We are very grateful to the Knowledge Centre, SaskPower and Shell CANSOLV for graciously and generously hosting us at our site visit to the Boundary Dam Unit 3 CCS Facility earlier this year. That, combined with the following two-day lessons learned workshop has greatly increased our understanding of some of the challenges that lie ahead for us. 

The candid and open sharing of issues and how you have resolved problems through design, construction and operation was beyond our expectation.

Further to the site visit and workshop, we have now engaged the Knowledge Centre in consulting on a range of topics for our development in such areas as flue gas ducting, damper and blower configuration,  operations training simulator, performance testing, sparing, isolation and maintenance, to name a few.

We will of course take on board the learning you have shared from your first-of-a-kind project and ensure we implement appropriate solutions for our own first-of-a-kind project. I’m sure we’ll face our own issues and unknowns but for sure we can reduce our risk based on our interaction with the Knowledge Centre. We look forward to inviting you to visit the world-scale CCS plant we are going to build in the UK, which will incorporate all of the valuable learnings that have been shared with us.