The Northern Connections ‘Living Lab’ event, organised by Scottish Enterprise and Falkirk Council at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh brought together over 150 representatives and partners for 21 cities and regions and knowledge institutions across seven countries with a focus on carbon capture and utilisation (CCU).

The one-day event focuses on technologies, innovations and ideas that can reduce emissions help the UK transition to a Net Zero carbon economy by 2050, including hydrogen tech.

The goal of this year’s Living Lab event was to strengthen business development in renewable and environmental technology through transnational cooperation between cities, regions and sustainable energy clusters.

It also aimed to identify key sustainable energy living labs and early stage projects with clearly identified challenges that will benefit from multinational knowledge sharing and capabilities.

Living Lab is a user-centred, open-innovation ecosystem, which operates in a territorial context. This approach enables all stakeholders to work together to consider the potential global performance of a product or service, and its adoption by users.

For Logan Energy and H2Tec, it was a great opportunity to connect with partners across the Interreg North Sea area, and present hydrogen energy solutions, underpinned by knowledge and experience to help address the challenges.

The event is an important community for companies like Logan Energy, as individuals from across the North Sea all have the same challenges in decarbonising. Event attendees all have similar industries and cultures, and the North Sea links the companies providing trade routes and access to resources. It is vital that they work together to meet shared goals.

The event showcased a number of debates, and it showed great commitment towards driving better cooperation, and ultimately meeting the goal of providing a cleaner and more efficient energy sector.

Pete Reid, Growth and Investment Manager at Falkirk Council led a standout discussion on the issues faced by town of Grangemouth, located in the Falkirk area, as they look to build an ecosystem around decarbonised industry, focused on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) and decarbonised hydrogen.

In his discussion, Reid outlined the importance of ensuring that this is a Just Transition that protects the rights of those currently working in the energy ecosystem to ensure that no one is left behind as we look to build upon the existing infrastructures from the Ineos petrochemical plant and Petroineos refinery in the area.

As Reid rightly said, it is vital that we learn from the transition made from coal that left so many areas in poverty and decline, instead working to protect these communities by helping them to transform their energy ecosystem in a way that works for everyone.

Mark Morrison, Senior Consultant at Optimat, agreed that Grangemouth is key to our success. Currently, more than one third of Scotland’s CO2 emissions come from Grangemouth.

Morrison called for better clarity and leadership from policy makers and government to underline the business case for CCS and CCU, as this is not a core business for the industrial emitters, and incentives to develop the market pull.

Mike Smith, CEO of the North East Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage Alliance (Neccus) agreed that a Just Transition was fundamental to the success of decarbonising our industry, and noted St Fergus, Aberdeen, as another key focus area.

He also noted that there are great challenges surrounding cement in reaching Net Zero. There is no getting away from the fact that we need cement, however the cement industry is the world’s second largest emitter of CO2 after steel, and accounts for 6% of global emissions. Integrating CCS processes at speed is therefore imperative to help this industry improve its emissions record.

Andy MacDonald, Head of Low Carbon at Scottish Enterprise, spoke about why Net Zero requires fundamental societal change, new technology and sector integration, and touched upon the fact this will need a huge amount of investment, both public and industrial.

A great example of how this can work is the Michelin Scotland Innovation Park in Dundee, which is creating investment and innovation in mobility by bringing academic institutions and industrial companies together to meet their goals.

He was clear that inaction is not an option, and that we need to think about a legacy beyond Scotland’s commitment to reaching Net Zero in 2045. Energy intensive industries have to be a part of Scotland’s economy and therefore must be decarbonised to allow future generations to continue this work and build a better, cleaner energy ecosystem for all. 

Our community is teeming with intelligent and creative ideas that are crying out for investment and public buy-in. It was clear from these discussions that collaboration is key, and we need to work together to overcome the issues we face.

What remains unclear is how these inspiring initiatives will be paid for. Currently, UK companies have access to European funding until the end of 2020 through the EU Research and Innovation programme, Horizon 2020 – but what happens after that? It’s possible that we will face a big shortfall in funding. We must understand if the UK and Scottish Governments will cover funding gaps in order for innovative companies to see success.

The event provided attendees with much food for thought, and sharpened focus on why we must do everything we can to provide clean alternative energy solutions.

About the author:

Nick Stapley is a Business Development Manager at Logan Energy.