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China Post: Capturing carbon may save climate

By Gerard Wynn and Alister Doyle LONDON/OSLO, Reuters

Burying greenhouse gases underground is emerging as humanity’s number one weapon to fight global warming, hailed by the oil and coal industry and even cautiously welcomed by environmentalists.

It sounds simple: capture the heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the power plants and factories that burn fossil fuels, pipe it away and entomb it in porous rocks several kilometers below ground.

But technological breakthroughs are needed to axe high costs that would push up household electricity bills before anyone can talk about “clean coal”. And there are problems in preventing and monitoring leaks and sorting out liability for any seepage.

Still, the prospect of the world’s fossil fuel-powered economy blasting through 2050 emissions targets, linked to fears of dangerous climate change, is driving the technology.

It is seen a relative quick fix — stapling on to existing fossil fuel industry rather than replacing a bigger share with wind, solar, nuclear power or efficiency gains.

“I have a friend who says ‘there is no silver bullet to solve climate change, there is silver buckshot’,” said former U.S. Vice President Al Gore during a visit to Oslo to promote his documentary about climate change.

“Clearly carbon capture is one of the buckshot…with luck maybe it will become a silver bullet,” he said.

U.N. studies project that entombing carbon dioxide might play a bigger role in fighting global warming this century than any other measure.

“There’s interest from both industry and government, it’s mushroomed,” said Robert Socolow, a Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University, estimating that public and private interest was now engaging 10,000 researchers.

Socolow projected that carbon capture and storage would add about 2 cents a kilowatt hour to electricity generated by a coal-fired plant — a 50 percent cost increase for delivery to the grid, and adding perhaps a fifth to household bills.

Successful carbon capture would boost the fossil fuel industry. That in turn would slow a shift to renewable energies in a fight against global warming which could spur more heatwaves, droughts, floods, disease and raise sea levels.

“It’s impossible in the timeframe we have to find alternatives to fossil fuels,” said Jeff Chapman, chief executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, which formed this year and now has 36 members, including oil and gas and power companies like Royal Dutch Shell, BP, RWE and E.ON.

Some environmental groups say carbon capture is a form of wishful thinking delaying a shift to renewable energy, but others are keen — assuming it is proven.

“Energy efficiency and renewables are the preferred option but CCS is a kind of emergency exit,” said Stephan Singer, Head of European Climate and Energy Policy at WWF.

“If it works it’s definitely part of the solution.”

In a report to Group of Eight (G8) leaders this summer the International Energy Agency forecast business as usual emissions would more than double by 2050 and found carbon capture and storage a key cure yielding up to 28 percent of achievable cuts.

A 2005 report by scientists who advise the United Nations estimated there was capacity underground to store some 80 years of carbon dioxide emissions — or some 2,000 billion tons.

But the U.N. panel said the costs of carbon dioxide would have to be US$25-30 a ton to make it feasible — above European Union market prices of between 12 16 euros (US$15-20) a ton.

What’s lacking is proof it is economic and political will.

Experts note that there are dangers, even though carbon dioxide is non-toxic in normal, low concentrations. It can asphyxiate because it is heavier than air — 1,800 people died in Cameroon in 1986 after a release from a volcanic lake.

Schemes are in operation in Norway, Algeria and Canada, among others, while six British CCS projects are awaiting government support. The European Commission also says it is looking at how to use the technology.

Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, predicted U.S. technology would lead.

“In the next 10 years, either in China or the United States, we will see the first emission-free coal-fired power plant — not in Europe,” he said, adding China would use U.S. technology.

A U.S. breakthrough could boost President George W. Bush. Many of Bush’s allies criticized his 2001 decision to pull out of the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. plan for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases by about 35 industrial nations. and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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