Page last updated at 06:00 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 07:00 UK

Australia to begin carbon capture

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

File image of a smoke stack emitting fumes in Sydney, Australia
Carbon dioxide captured from a power plant will be stored underground

Australia's first underground carbon storage facility has opened in the southern state of Victoria.

The geo-sequestration plant, the only one in the Southern hemisphere, will capture CO2 from a power station and store it 2km below the surface.

Researchers believe the pilot scheme will help Australia make deep cuts to its greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmentalists, though, are not convinced that the technology is appropriate.

'Very significant'

Australia's new carbon "tomb" lies in an old gas field near the town of Warrnambool, west of Melbourne.

Under this type of geo-sequestration, CO2 (carbon dioxide) from power plants is compressed into a liquid and pumped underground.

Several years of testing have convinced scientists that the site in southern Australia will be able to safely absorb 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Rock formations have been described as giant sponges that will soak up the CO2. The hope is that the dense fluid will remain locked away indefinitely.

One of the project's chief architects, Dr Peter Cook, says the technology will be carefully scrutinised.

"What we'll have is probably the most comprehensive monitoring programme for stored CO2 anywhere in the world," he said.

"It will also be one of the largest pilot projects in the world.

"It's a very, very significant project even by world standards and we're having a number of international groups who'll be working with us as part of this experiment.

"So, it will be the first real test of geo-sequestration under Australian conditions."

The scheme has the support of the Australian government and the country's powerful coal industry, which is looking at ways to secure a greener future.

A senior chemical engineer has told the BBC that geo-sequestration should be an effective way to curb CO2 emissions if leaks from underground storage areas can be avoided.

There is a warning, though, that this controversial process is expensive.

Environmental groups believe it has too many unknowns.

They have insisted that the money spent on the Victorian project should have been allocated to proven technologies, such as solar and wind power.

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