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Clean coal breakthroughs heartening news

Clean coal breakthroughs heartening news for climate and Kiwis worried about energy security

Major new clean coal technology breakthroughs in the US and Norway are heartening news for New Zealand which has 400 years of coal reserves buried beneath the South Island alone.

The emergence of the promising new technology means New Zealand may have a low-emission and secure long-term energy source by the time our known renewable energy options are used within the next 10 to 15 years.

The Norwegian technology will be economic with a carbon price of US$20 per tonne, indicating new carbon trading regimes, which put a price on emissions, are likely to encourage investment in clean coal technology.

The breakthroughs are at hand at a time when many might be feeling overwhelmed by the latest UN climate change scientists' warnings of the need for urgent world action, the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development says.

"The heartening and quickening pace of clean coal development shows the wisdom of not ruling out coal energy options for the longer term," says Business Council Chief Executive Peter Neilson. "It also shows there can be options for reducing emissions that will work with a relatively modest price on carbon determined by an emissions trading system.

"Our major energy future research report in 2005 said clean coal technology would probably be viable in 2050. Now it could arrive decades earlier and in time to secure our energy future."

The two significant technology announcements include:

  • The first commercial scale application of Powerspan ECO2 clean coal technology in the US. The technology strips 90% of incoming C02 from coal being used to generate electricity. The technology can be retrofitted to existing coal fired power stations, paving the way for many of the world's power plants to adopt a clean coal option, and
  • Successful testing of new Sargas technology in Norway, cutting greenhouse gases 95%, which says a competitive coal-fired power plant with carbon dioxide capture could be built today with this technology and produce energy at competitive costs.

Both technologies result in emissions being re buried in oil fields boosting field pressure and oil recovery.

The Business Council says the technology breakthroughs could provide the "big fix" for countries like the US, China, India and Australia which rely heavily on coal-fueled power stations for energy. China in particular is planning major coal fired energy expansion.

"It means the chances of a new Kyoto agreement from 2012, including commitments from all the major emitters, is greatly improved," Mr Neilson says.

The International Energy Agency's head of research, Fatih Birol, says if governments do not take further action the world's temperature could rise by six degrees Centigrade beyond 2030.

Mr Neilson says the coming price on carbon in 27 US states and in other markets worldwide, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, mean technologies like that being trialed by Sargas and Powerspan could help New Zealand and the world meet emissions reduction targets and avoid what the European Union's Environment Commissioner describes as "catastrophic consequences".

It would also give hope to New Zealanders, 96% of whom think the country has a problem in sourcing its future energy. Some 64% also say "no" when asked if New Zealand has a secure energy supply, according to the latest ShapeNZ survey of 3581 people nationwide. Only 24% think the country has a secure energy supply.


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