smokestack.jpgBack in 2005 the EU agreed to cooperate with China on climate change. Four years on and several billion tonnes of CO2 later, the two have finally found a project on which they can cooperate.

The European Commission has earmarked a modest €50m for the construction and operation of a power plant in China to demonstrate carbon capture and geological storage (CCS).

Using CCS, it is theoretically possible to reduce the CO2 emissions from a coal-fired power plant by 80 per cent or more. The gas is captured from the power plant, compressed and then injected into geological formations underground where it remains sequestered.

One obvious problem with CCS, which is still largely at an experimental stage, is that the CO2 can leak back into the atmosphere.

Coal is China's predominant energy source, contributing 70% to the energy mix and the country plans to build hundreds of new coal-fired plant to meet future electricity demand over the next decade.

The EC argues that CCS technologies could make a significant contribution by mitigating the greenhouse gas emissions produced. If 18% of the world's fossil fuel-burning power plants were fitted with CCS technology by 2030, it would limit global warming to less than 2 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels — thee so-called Copenhagen goal.

Depending on the choice of CCS technology used, and assuming China introduces some form of carbon pricing instrument, the EC says it may extend the accord to cover the construction and operation of a new power plant equipped with CCS in China.

The estimated cost for such a full-sized plant is in a different ball park, however . It would cost between €300m to €500m and the EC would look to China, EU states and other European Economic Area (EEA) countries and industry to secure the additional financing required.

The Commission proposes to combine these funding sources in a public-private partnership, and the investment scheme could serve as a model for other technology cooperation activities between developed countries and developing countries in the context of a post-2012 climate change agreement.

China surpassed the US to become the world's biggest emitter of CO2 in 2007, due in large part to its heavy dependence on burning fossil fuels to generate electricity.

The US Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimated that the US emitted about 1.6bn tonnes of carbon in 2007, compared to China's 1.8bn tonnes.

While the CCS project is well-intentioned, its unlikely to produce any concrete reduction in China's CO2 emissions any time soon. Perhaps the money might better spent developing coal-bed methane, a clean coal technology that is already being used on a limited scale in China to reduce methane emissions from coal mines.

Methane is 20 times more potent than CO2 and once captured can be used in a gas turbine to generate electricity — see these EngagingChina stories for more.

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