Up to a quarter of Europe's carbon dioxide emissions could be stored under the North Sea if the opportunities there are effectively exploited, according to a new report.
The study by Scottish Enterprise, produced with input from industry partners, highlights the possible impact that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology could have.
The central North Sea boasts "geologically near-perfect" sites where the emissions could be stored, it says. By 2050 as much as 500 metric tonnes of CO2 - the equivalent of 25% of the EU's power and industrial emissions in 2007 - could be stored there.
Peterhead could become a key location for the shipment of captured CO2 from other parts of the UK and Europe, before the pollution is taken to storage sites in the sea. Establishing such an import facility in the town could create around 500 jobs and boost the local economy by £140 million, according to the report.
Scottish Enterprise said in its report: "A decision by the UK Government to provide capital support to projects in the central North Sea will represent the first step in the faster route to a commercially viable, cost competitive CCS industry in the UK and a futureproof storage asset for Europe."
It describes carbon capture and storage as "a vital technology which will play a significant role in the generation of low carbon electricity". It also says that the UK has an "unmoveable and unique advantage" to help make CCS a reality because "nowhere else in the EU is as close to the geologically near-perfect and technically diverse, sub-surface CO2 storage sites available within central North Sea".
Sandstone below the waters of the Moray Firth has "already been shown to have enough capacity to safely store the next 50 years of emissions from UK fossil fuelled power plant", according to the report. "Nearby, another 10 reservoirs can easily hold 100 years' worth of Europe's CO2 emissions."
David Rennie, director of oil and gas, thermal generation and CCS at Scottish Enterprise, said: "The offshore geography of the central North Sea gives us an unique advantage in developing CCS capabilities which has huge potential for the Scottish economy. This new report highlights the scale of the opportunity of CCS and a central North Sea hub, and the steps needed to exploit this.
"Much of the infrastructure and skills to develop CCS is already in place in Scotland, thanks to our globally renowned oil and gas sector. The challenge now is to make sure we fully exploit these advantages to develop a reputation for Scotland as a world leader in this area."
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said that the report provides "further evidence of Scotland's unique attributes with regards to carbon capture and storage". He said: "CCS technology has the potential to transform the way we generate power and make an important contribution to Scotland's low carbon future and Scotland is well placed to take a lead in its development and commercialisation."