The launch of the UK’s first carbon storage licensing round has been hailed as an “important day on the path to net zero”.

Andy Samuel, the chief executive of the North Sea Transition Authority, spoke out as the process of areas being offered for carbon capture and storage schemes got under way.

Sites being offered in this round include areas off the coast of Aberdeen, as well as Teesside, Liverpool and Lincolnshire.

  The NSTA has already awarded ad hoc licences to bp and Equinor for four separate storage sites around 43 miles off the coast of Humberside.

Read more: Storage licences granted for bp and Equinor carbon capture plan

Combined with the existing licence granted for the Endurance carbon store, they could eventually contribute to the storage of up to 23 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of CO2 around 1,400 m beneath the seabed. The government’s target for Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage is to reach 20-30 mtpa by 2030, and over 50 mtpa by 2035.

The level of interest in the new licences suggest there will be strong competition for what could be the first of many licensing rounds – with estimates suggesting up to 100 carbon dioxide stores could be needed if the UK is to meet its target of reaching net zero by 2050.

The carbon capture and storage schemes allow for CO2 emissions from industry to be transported – either by ships or in pipelines – before being stored offshore, deep underground in geological formations.

Organisations now have 90 days to make an application, with the NSTA due to evaluate the bids based on their technical and financial criteria after September 13.

A spokesperson for bp said: “bp already holds storage licences on behalf of the Northern Endurance Partnership that will serve the East Coast Cluster. Today the NSTA announced new acreage for which it invites bids.

“bp will evaluate these opportunities and respond to NSTA ahead of the September closing date.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “It’s great to see additional capacity being made for carbon storage following the great news that bp and Equinor had recently secured their licences to develop the UK’s first decarbonised industrial cluster, right here on Teesside.

The Northern Echo: Tees Valley Mayor Ben HouchenTees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen

“It’s a superb opportunity for more businesses to take advantage of these pioneering technologies helping us to meet our net zero ambitions, but it will help create thousands of good-quality, well paid jobs for local workers in the cleaner, safer and healthier industries of tomorrow.”

It is expected new licences will be awarded early next year – with the possibility some schemes could be up and running within four to six years of that.

Speaking as the licensing round opened, Mr Samuel said: “This is an important day on the path to net zero emissions.

“In addition to the huge environmental benefits of significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, the facilities will provide opportunities for many thousands of highly-skilled jobs.

“Carbon storage is going to be needed across the world. There is growing investor appetite and we are keen to accelerate development of the carbon storage sector so that the UK is well-positioned to be a global leader.

“The NSTA is ready to work with industry, government, regulators and others to deliver these exciting projects at pace.”

UK energy minister Greg Hands said the Government was determined to “make the UK a world leader in carbon capture”, adding that this “will be crucial in helping us reduce emissions and protect the viability and competitiveness of British industry”.

He said: “This licensing round is an important step in making this a reality, helping support new jobs across the UK and encouraging investment in our industrial heartlands.”

Will Webster, energy policy manager at Offshore Energies UK, said CO2 storage technology could prevent tens of millions of tonnes of CO2 entering the atmosphere.

He said: “Carbon capture technologies will be a key element in helping the UK reach net zero.

“It is particularly important for industry, especially heavy industries which need a lot of energy and so produce a lot of CO2. This applies particularly to the cement and steel industries, petrochemical refineries, and power generation.”

He added: “The UK’s oil and gas sector has a highly skilled workforce used to managing and transporting large volumes of gas safely and they will have all the knowledge needed to make this technology work.”

But Mr Webster added: “This is a long-term project – we want to be able to store 50 million tonnes of CO2 a year by 2035 and continue expanding after that.

“That means we need a long-term commitment from government, a clear regulatory framework, and business models that encourage early investment.”