Western governments pushing China to use clean-coal technology may need to lower their expectations for the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases.
Costs will total as much as $US400 billion ($474 billion) over 30 years to install systems to capture carbon dioxide from power plant smokestacks in China and bury it underground, said Richard Morse, a Stanford University research associate and author of a study on the technology. China has little incentive to invest because it will raise power prices and it's unclear if wealthier nations will pick up the bill, Morse said in an interview.
US Energy Secretary Steven Chu and European nations have championed carbon capture for nations including China as vital to slowing global warming while keeping coal in the energy mix. China, the biggest producer of coal, gets about 80 per cent of its electricity from burning the fuel, which spews more heat- trapping gases than natural gas or oil.
``The idea that carbon capture has to happen in China is a western idea,'' said Morse. Proposals by developed nations that seek Chinese cooperation ignore the ``staggering'' costs of clean-coal devices, Morse and colleagues said in the new report.
Companies developing capture systems in the US include American Electric Power Co., the nation's biggest producer of electricity from coal, and Duke Energy Corp. In Europe, Alstom SA, E.ON AG, RWE AG and Vattenfall AB are testing the devices.
The US and China are negotiating a two-way agreement to reign in emissions ahead of a meeting of 192 nations in December in Copenhagen called to produce a new global climate accord. In July meetings with government officials in China, Chu underscored the role carbon capture can play in lowering coal emissions, according to Energy Department statements.
During the trip, the two countries announced the start of a joint clean energy research center with carbon capture as a top priority. In a July 28 memorandum of understanding on climate change, China and the US pledged to cooperate on a series of clean-energy initiatives, including carbon capture. The agreement covers energy efficiency, renewable energy and electric vehicles.
Legislation passed by the US House now before the Senate would provide $US10 billion over 10 years for ``clean-coal'' facilities. US companies working to develop carbon capture systems include American Electric Power Co., the biggest US producer of electricity from coal, and Duke Energy Corp.
Not a priority
China has a ``critical'' role in developing clean-energy technologies such as carbon capture, Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said in Beijing earlier this year. The Paris-based IEA is an energy adviser to 28 nations including the US, U.K and Germany.
While China is developing pilot projects for carbon capture, it has balked at throwing full support behind the technology.
``Carbon capture and storage, particularly for China, is not one of the priorities -- the cost is an issue,'' Su Wei, director-general of the climate-change unit at China's National Development and Reform Commission, said in an Aug. 4 telephone interview from Beijing.
The cost of adding the devices would undercut China's ``non-negotiable desire for cheap power to fuel economic development,'' according to the report. China's economy is forecast to quicken in the third and fourth quarters and reach an 8.3 per cent rate for the year, according to a Bloomberg News survey of 21 economists.
Picking up bill
China and many developing countries don't oppose using new technology to fight global warming if wealthy nations help pay for it. In a proposal to the UN earlier this year, China and India said rich nations should contribute at least $US200 billion a year to help them build wind turbines, solar plants and use other clean-energy systems.
Cooperation on carbon capture may benefit China and the US, said Andrew Light, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington public policy group that advises Democrats. A partnership may speed efforts to prove the technology and generate trust on climate issues, Light said.
``You could build demonstration plants in China faster than you could in the US and cheaper than you could in the US,'' Light said in an interview.
The center and the New York-based Asia Society, a nonprofit group that promotes Asian-US relations, plan to release a separate report this month that proposes cooperation between the US and China on developing capture projects.