World-class training for the modern energy industry

Meet the Expert: 5 Minutes with Matthew Healey

calendar April 23, 2024
Matthew Healey sitting at his computer

We sat down with Matthew Healey ahead of his upcoming GeoLogica course – Lessons Learned from Carbon Capture and Storage Projects to Date 

What is your field and specialization?

I’m the managing director of Pace CCS. We are a multi-disciplinary engineering design consultancy that specializes in designing CCS projects. So, I live and breathe CCS all day, every day.

Can you tell us a bit about your career journey?

Yeah, sure. So, I’ve got a chemical engineering degree and I’m from Australia. I’ve worked mostly in Australia and the UK, with a little bit in other parts of the world, mainly in the oil and gas industry. That experience is relevant to CCS. I had my first big job on a project called White Rose about 10 years ago and started Pace CCS in 2017. In 2020, we made the strategic decision to focus entirely on CCS and, since then, it’s been a company that designs CCS projects. The industry emerged as a key player in the fight against climate change. We’ve worked on a little over 100 projects around the world. It’s an incredibly exciting industry to be involved in, and to be right at the start of it and involved on a global scale is an opportunity I never thought I’d have in my career. And it’s really good fun.

In terms of training, there’s a lot of demand for sharing knowledge between projects. We recognized this early on, so we’ve been running training courses as one of the things that we deliver. There are four of us at Pace who deliver training courses and, between us, we’ve delivered 25 or so public and private courses to clients around the world.

Could you tell us a bit about some of your favorite projects, or perhaps the part of the job that you have found particularly inspiring?

I think the best part of the job is being involved in so many projects. Essentially, there are lots and lots of companies developing CCS projects; some of them are energy companies looking to change their business to reduce or stop emitting CO2 into the atmosphere; some of them are in industry and are looking to decarbonize; some of them are specialist CCS developers; and then some are people who are coming into the space from the green energy perspective. But most of them are delivering their first CCS projects. Our great advantage is that we have the experience of working on many different projects around the world and that’s the reason we are so busy as a company. Taking our experience from project to project is where we can provide a lot of value.

Our first major enterprise has been the HyNet project in the Liverpool Bay area in the UK. This is a project that is based in a very, very old industrial area along the Mersey. The plan is to take the CO2 from multiple existing industries, as well as bringing new industries to the area, including a new hydrogen plant, and store it underground. The project will be reusing existing pipelines and old oil and gas infrastructure. In Liverpool you can actually stand on the jetty and look out over the bay and you can see the oil platforms on a clear day. It doesn’t happen very often (by which I mean, a clear day in Liverpool!) but when it does, you can see them. Being able to take those pipelines, those wells, those platforms, which have been there for about 40 years and which have reached the end of their life when it comes to generating oil and gas, and to take the space they’ve left behind a few kilometers below the surface of the Earth, and fill it with hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2 over the coming years . . . To be involved with a project like that is fantastic. It’s now getting to the point where they’re going to start pouring concrete and digging holes and actually building the thing what we’ve helped design and that is really exciting. There are a lot of projects like HyNet out there nowadays, but it’ll be one of the first and it’ll certainly be one of the best based on our experiences with it. That is a really satisfying thing to be a part of, from a professional point of view. That’s a clear and obvious highlight. We’re having a lot of fun, in general, working with various projects but HyNet’s a really good example of our first major project.

Combatting climate change is obviously a very big deal for you, then?

It is. Not only was last year the hottest year on record, 2024 is on track to be hotter again. In 2023, we put more CO2 into the atmosphere than we have ever done in any preceding year. There has been a lot of work, in terms of transitioning away from carbon-intensive energy towards green energy, over the last few decades, but we haven’t even reduced the rate at which CO2 is going up in the atmosphere. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere produced since the Industrial Revolution has gone up by fifty per cent, and it is going up now at the fastest rate than it ever has. We’ve got an awfully long way to go. If the UK is going to get to net zero by 2050 and the world is going to keep climate change to below about two degrees, which is still pretty disastrous, a huge amount needs to happen.

There are two key parts to this; one is green energy, and this means moving away from hydrocarbons, especially coal, and replacing them with wind, solar and hydroelectric; the other is CCS, which is where we capture carbon to stop it going into the atmosphere and we put it into geological storage, where we can prove it will stay. Both of those are required at the same time. There are some parts of the world where green energy makes sense. There are some parts of the world where CCS makes more sense. But in the UK, it’s a mixture of the two. Right now, we are capturing and disposing of about 10 million tonnes per year of CO2. Most of that is pilot projects. By 2050, the IPCC says that we need to be disposing of 8800 million tonnes per year. So that’s what’s required from this brand-new industry.

There is one project operating at the moment called the Gorgon Project. We talk about this during the training course, but it’s a project which has had some real problems. We can’t afford the 2000 or so projects that need to be in operation in the coming decades to have the same sorts of issues. We have to learn from these problems.

Tell us about your upcoming course with GeoLogica – what is it about and who is it for?

It’s a one-day course for people who are designing CCS projects and for their managers. It’s for the people who are responsible for the money that is being spent on CCS, and will help make those projects a success. The focus of the course is on sharing lessons learned from CCS projects around the world. We’ve got a dozen or so different projects that we’re drawing lessons from, and we’ve framed that into a course to provide useful, actionable information for people who are learning about CCS and people who are running projects. This information is a combination of details that are in the public domain and also learnings from other private projects, which we’re able to share without infringing confidentiality. So, we’ll be covering a lot of ground. We’re looking at real world issues and the solutions to those issues, and it will really benefit anyone involved in CCS design.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that most people don’t know.

Well, I’m a former professional cricketer. I played for the West Australian Second XI and the Middlesex Second XI and that’s what I did for most of my twenties. I used to travel between Australia and England playing summers in each one. If you look at my CV, what it says I did earlier in my career is largely a lie! I was playing cricket for most of that time, not doing engineering.

GL: Bowler or batsman?

Fast bowler. I’ve described myself as Glenn McGrath, but without the height, pace or accuracy.

What is the biggest challenge facing the sector today, from your perspective?

The answer is the same for the UK as it is for the rest of the world: operations. Of the CCS projects that are out there, almost all of them are in design. Essentially, none of them have started up. When we talk about a CCS industrial hub, like HyNet, Northern Lights or like most high-profile CCS projects where we’re taking CO2 from multiple sources and using shared transportation and disposal infrastructure, they’re being combined into pipelines, going into compressors and then being disposed of in a reservoir. None of these projects are operating. Anyone who’s worked in engineering for as long as I have will know that design is one thing and operations is another. Those of us coming from energy or oil and gas, or any other industry, are used to working in a place where your operations team is incredibly experienced. They come in and they’ve seen it all before, they’ve done it all before and they know how to work with their equipment. What we have with CCS, though, is every operator is going to be on their first day, so they need to be supported by the people who are designing the systems to make them as simple and as operable as possible. One of the key lessons that will come out of the training course is to do with the challenges that projects have already seen from an operability point of view and they are significant. We’ve had projects that have had failures, we’ve had projects that have had significant delays, we’ve had projects that have had to spend money unexpectedly because of early operational challenges. So that is the major hurdle coming our way because everyone’s doing their first CCS project. People haven’t designed these things before. You’ve got companies like Pace who have worked on, you know, over 100 projects, and that’s a lot of experience, but there is no equivalent for people who have operated CCS projects. That’s the big challenge.

What would be your advice to anyone entering the CCS industry?

Wood Mackenzie published a report a couple of years ago looking at the CCS industry. They came up with very similar numbers to the IPCC, in terms of the need for CCS, and that was about 8000 or so million tonnes per year of CCS by 2050 – about 180 million tonnes just in the UK – which is a huge scale up for an industry which is at the very, very early stages. So, what I say to engineers is that if you’re a junior engineer coming into the CCS industry and you’re starting on 10 July 2024, which is when my course is running, you are going to be one of the old legends of the industry. You’re going to be the first generation of experienced CCS engineers later on in your career. And that means that it’s an absolutely fantastic place to be working. There are people who have been there, seen it all before, done it all before, but this is an industry that needs smart and creative people to solve new problems. So, it’s an ideal industry for an engineer who’s just starting out, because they’ll get opportunities they simply won’t see elsewhere.

Any general advice for working in the industry?

Communication. It’s really easy to find engineers who can do engineering. What we need is engineers who are good communicators and engineers who are creative. We don’t need engineers who can, you know, turn the handle and deliver good, reliable work. We need engineers who can tackle new problems and then communicate the solutions to those problems so they can be understood by people who aren’t experts. It is not an industry where it’s useful to be writing 150-page technical reports that can only be understood by someone who’s got a specialty in the same area. We need things to be understood by a broad range of people. So, engineers who can think creatively, who are strong at communicating – in person, well as in writing – are the people we need. The only way that we can share information and make sure that this industry is the success that it needs to be is by communicating what we’ve learned to other people. It’s no good holding information in our heads and not telling anyone – we need to share it. And that means that we need skillful communicators.

Final question. Can you give us your best engineering joke?

There are no engineering jokes.

GL: Brilliant

Matthew Healey at his desk