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A chemical plant in Cheshire is to start capturing carbon dioxide on an industrial scale from power generation in what is described as the UK’s first major use of emissions reduction technology.

Tata Chemicals Europe (TCE) hopes to capture 40,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, reduce its annual emissions by 10% and provide it with a supply of high-purity carbon dioxide that could be used in products ranging from glass and pharmaceutical and food detergents.

Carbon capture is seen by the UK Committee on Climate Change as an important part of the plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions in society. It could be particularly useful for “difficult to reduce” industrial sectors such as steel, cement or chemicals, whose need for very high temperatures makes dependence on electricity difficult. However, some scientists question whether the technology will be created on a sufficient scale over time to prevent catastrophic global warming.

The TCE plant has been testing the technology and ensuring the purity of the carbon dioxide produced for 10 months, but is now ready to start full operations. Food-grade carbon dioxide has been lacking in the UK in recent months.

Carbon dioxide is produced from the heat and power station which it uses to make chemicals including soda ash, salt and soda ash at the Northwich plant. The company, which is owned by Indian conglomerate Tata, said it plans to export sodium bicarbonate made with the captured gas for use in hemodialysis to treat people living with kidney disease.

TCE has reduced its carbon intensity – a measure of the amount of carbon emissions produced in its processes – by 50% compared to 2000, and it aims to reach 80% by 2030.

The government provided a grant of £4.2m for the project, which cost £20m in total. The project will be the progenitor of larger carbon capture developments in the north of England which have been chosen for funding by the UK government, provided they can prove value for money.

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These projects, the East Coast cluster around Humber and Teesside and HyNet North West in Liverpool Bay, are backed by major oil companies, which hope to capture the carbon and store it underground. Successful carbon storage could also allow them to continue drilling for profitable but polluting oil.

Martin Ashcroft, managing director of TCE, said it was “a major step in our journey to reduce carbon emissions”.

“Completing the Carbon Capture and Utilization Demonstration Plant enables us to reduce our carbon emissions while securing our supply of high-purity carbon dioxide, an essential raw material, helping us to develop the exporting our pharmaceutical grade products across the globe,” he said.

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