By Emma Alberici in London for AM
ABC News Online, 24th April 2009
Environmentalists are concerned that Britain's $8 billion project to build the world's first large commercial carbon capture and storage facilities is based on untested technology.
The British Government announced the plans to build the facilities when finance minister Alistair Darling handed down his Budget this week.
The Government has set aside four sites and $8 billion for the facilities, which it says will have the ability to take emissions from large coal-fired power stations and bury them deep underground.
Under the plan Britain will become the first country to require every new coal-fired power station to be fitted with the new technology, which is currently non-existent and untested on a commercial scale.
But environmentalists say the money would be better spent on renewable energy, especially considering the technology is still untested.
Ed Milliband, the UK's Energy and Climate Minister, is confident that it will work.
"There is an urgent international imperative for us to make coal clean. With a solution to the problem of coal, we greatly increase our chances of stopping dangerous climate change," he said.
"Without it we will not succeed. There is a solution to the challenge through carbon capture and storage: capturing the CO2, transporting it and locking it permanently underground would reduce emissions by 90 per cent."
Of all the electricity sources, coal-fired power produces the dirtiest form of pollution.
The new scheme, also referred to as CCS (carbon capture and storage), will see the carbon dioxide belching from four coal-fired plants in the UK captured, scrubbed with a solvent, dried, compressed into liquid form, piped or taken by ship to a geological site where its pumped more than two kilometres underground.
It could take 20 years to prove that it works.
Caroline Lucas, a Greens Party Member of the European Parliament, says that there is the real possibility that it will not work.
"Much better to put Government money into tried and tested technologies that deliver emission cuts much more quickly, much more cheaply and also which will deliver far more jobs more quickly too," she said.
"Investment in renewables for example could generate four times as many jobs 10 years sooner than CCS."
E.ON is one of the world's biggest energy companies. It is committed to building a pipeline network from the UK into the North Sea where the carbon emissions can be stored under depleted oil and gas fields.
E.ON's Jonathan Smith says there are unlikely to be risks involved in the new technology.
"Obviously with gas and oil, until humankind went looking for it, it was perfectly safe and was harming nobody below the surface of the sea," he said.
The British Government this week set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 34 per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2020.
It predicts that CCS will add around 1 billion pounds or $2.05 billion to the cost of a new coal fired power station. The money will be raised by increasing energy bills in the UK by 2 per cent.
The Government has been given little choice. Within a decade, one-third of its current power generators, nuclear and coal-fired, will close and its got to find alternative ways of making sure the country's lights do not go out.
It will not be able to meet its ambitious emission reduction targets if its coal is not cleaned up.