China looks to add carbon storage to anti-climate change armoury | Connect Asia

China looks to add carbon storage to anti-climate change armoury

China looks to add carbon storage to anti-climate change armoury

Updated 18 January 2012, 15:40 AEDT

China has given the strongest signal yet that it will invest in Carbon Capture and Storage.

That's the technology designed to take carbon emissions from power plants or other large emitters and bury them underground.

It's still very much unproven but China's Climate Change Minister Xie Zhenhua told a conference last week that if large reductions are to be made by 2025, then Carbon Capture and Storage will need to be one of the options considered.

Presenter:Bill Bainbridge

Speaker: Deborah Seligsohn, of the Washington-based thing tank World Resources Institute

SELIGSOHN: Well, they're usual phrase is energy efficiency and pollution reduction and the pollution reduction refers to a wide range of pollutants and China's still dealing with all the traditional air pollution that most developed countries kind of addressed in the 70s and 80s - sulphur dioxide, nitro-dioxide, ozone - all the stuff that makes your air look dirty and actually immediately affects human health. So the pollution part of it had been generally focused on that and the part that really impacted on climate and CO2 was the energy efficiency part. By speaking directly about carbon reductions, carbon abatement, he was focusing not just on new energy sources, but on addressing the CO2 directly, which brings in the option of carbon capture and storage, so brings in policy that don't necessarily have an energy impact, but just have a carbon impact.

BAINBRIDGE: And so he said that China will invest in pilot projects. The technology is still pretty unproven, but does this improve the likelihood that this technology will eventually succeed?

SELIGSOHN: Well, the technology needs to be demonstrated at scale. Every part of the technology has actually been shown to work, at least at the demo level. There are a number of large storage projects around the world and the capture technology are all out there. It's just a question of getting them to be economical. So his endorsing the idea of doing more pilots is good, because it's part of what will help drive down that cross curve.

BAINBRIDGE: And what's the significance of having this technology available? Does it mean that we can continue to use all these coal-fired power plants for every and just bury all the emissions?

SELIGSOHN: Well, it means that we have a way to address some of the emissions from the coal fired power plants that countries, including Australia don't appear to be likely to phase out immediately. So for a country like China, that's 65 per cent dependent on coal or a country like Australia, where I believe in your power sector it's up to 80 per cent right. This is an important tool to have. You might choose to do something else, you might choose to use solar or wind, but it gives you another option. And Minister Xie made it quite clear that what he wanted was to have the full range of options. He wasn't saying we're definitely going to use a lot of this. He was saying this is one of the things we need to have available. I think they also see if the world really moves towards rapid reductions, there's going to be a global market for this technology and they want to develop the technology and be a competitive seller of this technology around the world.

BAINBRIDGE: And so is it a second best solution though compared to just reducing emissions in the first place?

SELIGSOHN: I think that's very difficult to say, because I think ultimately if you develop it up, you're going to have to look at cost-effectiveness. So it may be that a coal fire power plant with carbon capture and storage is in certain areas still less expensive than a solar array or wind or those options may simply be unavailable depending on your renewable resource. Obviously you still have to deal with other costs of coal production, the pollution from mining, the worker safety issues and all of those other things. So you'd have to balance out all the many issues. But given the number of coal fired power plants that's out there in the world and the urgency of climate change, it seems like one of the things that's going to need to happen at some point is that some of that carbon dioxide is going to need to go underground.

Now I do want to say that Minister Xie also made it clear that in terms of scaling up, there's a need for global financing and there's a need for developed countries to support the implementation of such policies in developing countries and he talked about the need for global fund to do this kind of thing. He also made it clear that what they want to do to begin with is come up with uses for CO2 and the most likely of these is enhanced oil recovery. China actually has very little enhanced oil recovery using CO2. It's a very common technology, especially in the United States and it would create a pathway to storing underground if you start by using it, you develop the pipeline networks and the experience. So it's a sensible policy, but doesn't address as much of the CO2 as ultimately just storing it underground would.

BAINBRIDGE: And so what China's saying is that it aims to reduce the intensity of its carbon dioxide emissions in the Chinese economy by between 40 and 45 per cent by 2020. What are the signs so far that they're on track to achieve that goal?

SELIGSOHN: Well, they met their energy intensity goals, or they were very close for the last five years, so they're sort of moving in that trajectory and now they've added carbon intensity, most of which will be done by improving energy efficiency and then some by adding renewables and nuclear to their mix. They are about to announce the provincial targets under the carbon intensity goals, so they're doing the work that they need to do in terms of assigning goals to lower levels of government. They've expanded their big industrial energy efficiency program from 1,000 companies to 10,000 companies, they're apparently also going to announce a total energy cap sometime in the next month or two and assign that to the provinces as well. They're also talking about bringing in carbon tax within the next year or two. They already have a tax on oil and gas and it would mean adding a tax to coal. And they're looking at getting some emissions trading pilots in a few provinces up and running probably by about 2013.

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