£40m plan to 'store' greenhouse gases

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The Government today offered a £40 million funding package to develop a pioneering plan to tackle greenhouse gas emissions by "capturing" CO2 from power plants and storing it safely in depleted North Sea oil and gas fields.

The Government today offered a £40 million funding package to develop a pioneering plan to tackle greenhouse gas emissions by "capturing" CO2 from power plants and storing it safely in depleted North Sea oil and gas fields.

The so-called carbon capture and storage could be in operation within a decade and could become a valuable new export opportunity, said Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks.

The aid was designed to stimulate demonstration projects for cleaner electricity generation from coal and gas as well as for hydrogen and fuel cells, said the minister.

"Reaching our ambitious target of cutting carbon emissions by 60% by 2050 means action now to support emerging technologies that will enable us to burn coal and gas more cleanly.

"At the same time, with major expansion of coal-fired power generation expected in China and India, we want to put the UK at the forefront of what could be a valuable new export opportunity.

"We've consulted the industry closely and it's clear that the long-term benefits of capture and storage, which could reduce emissions from power plants by up to 85%, merit significant investment now."

Cleaning up fossil fuels and developing the "vast potential" of hydrogen and fuel cells was a vital long-term objective as well as maintaining the push to increase renewable energy, said Mr Wicks.

Around £25 million will be offered to improve the efficiency of existing power plants and a further £15 million will be spent on demonstration programmes for hydrogen and fuel cells.

Environment Minister Elliot Morley added: "Tackling climate change is a key priority for the Government, and it is an issue we are addressing on many fronts.

"Developing carbon abatement technology can help us reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions. This is essential because the use of fossil fuels is expected to grow, notably in developing nations, and that's why the issue of new technology will be an important feature of next month's G8 summit."

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, welcomed the initiative, but said there were many obstacles to overcome before carbon-storing could make an impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Juniper told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Obviously, we have to be using energy much more efficiently, we need to be moving towards renewable energy technology, but at the same time it might be that we can make a big impact on reducing carbon dioxide by capturing the carbon at the source, at the coal-fired power station, and sequestering it underground.

"There are many challenges that need to be faced in doing this.

"First of all, are there enough geological deposits that can keep this gas out of the atmosphere for long enough to make a difference? Can we get it there effectively? Can we transport it in a way that is technically feasible?

"And then, of course, what is going to be the cost of implementing this technology?"

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