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Chu: Chinese Carbon Costs Worth Paying

By Reuters, Reuters - July 16, 2009

BEIJING (Reuters) - The huge costs required to capture CO2 emitted by China's vast coal-fired power sector is a price worth paying to cut greenhouse gases to reasonable levels, U.S. energy secretary Steven Chu said.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is seen by many as the only way forward in a country still heavily dependent on burning coal to meet its energy needs, but scientists say it will actually require more energy consumption, not less.

But this "energy penalty" -- which includes the power required to drive the CCS facilities as well as transport and store the captured carbon -- is nothing compared to the environmental costs of doing nothing to curb emissions, or "business as usual," Chu told Reuters.

"Is 10 or 20 percent too big an energy penalty? Not really, considering the real costs (of current practices) are actually considerably higher."

He said even if the energy penalty amounted to 30 percent, it was still modest compared to the costs of spewing out not just CO2, but also nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide, which cause acid rain and damage air, water and forests.

"CCS is a way of cleaning up a lot of the pollutants that China has discovered, as we discovered years ago, is really bad stuff. Bad for your health. Bad for your lakes, your forests, everything."

The United States regulates nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide emissions.

"So a 20 percent energy penalty is quite modest. And the technology will improve."

He said the United States was planning to work closely with China on developing carbon capture technology through the new U.S.-China Joint Clean Energy Research Center, which was established during Chu's visit to China this week.

China currently has a CCS "demonstration project" operating in suburban Beijing and run by state power giant Huaneng Group. Another is expected to go into operation later this year in Shanghai.

China's biggest coal firm, Shenhua, is also building what is described as the country's first commercial CCS project as part of its new coal liquefaction plant in Erdos, Inner Mongolia.

COSTING THE EARTH

According to studies from the International Energy Agency, each carbon capture facility is likely to cost "a billion euros," and will need strong government backing to succeed.

"It is not possible commercially because it is too expensive," Nobuo Tanaka, secretary-general of the IEA, told Reuters during a visit to China last month.

With negotiations on a new global climate change compact set to conclude in the Danish capital of Copenhagen at the end of this year, many experts say more effort should be made to promote carbon capture technology as part of a new deal.  Continued...

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