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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Funds for greenhouse gas storage
Carbon sequestration in the Sleipner West Field (Statoil/ōyvind Hagen)
Norway's Statoil company has buried CO2 under the North Sea since 1996
The UK government has announced £25m of funding for a plan to capture greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and store them under the North Sea.

Carbon sequestration, as it is known, has long been regarded as one possible solution that might help mitigate the effects of global warming.

It involves power stations and oil rigs holding on to their emissions of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

The gases are then pumped underground to keep them out of the atmosphere.

We must, of course, maintain the push toward renewables and energy efficiency that deliver cuts in emissions here and now
Malcolm Wicks, energy minister
Carbon storage could be up and running within a decade, said the government.

The money announced on Tuesday is part of a £40m package to tackle climate change that covers not only carbon sequestration, but projects for cleaner electricity generation from coal and gas as well as for hydrogen and fuel cell technology.

"We've consulted the industry closely and it's clear that the long-term benefits of capture and storage, which could reduce emissions from power plants by up to 85%, merit significant investment now," said energy minister Malcolm Wicks.

"We must, of course, maintain the push toward renewables and energy efficiency that deliver cuts in emissions here and now."

Ideal store

The North Sea is thought to be ideal to store captured emissions as they would simply reoccupy the spaces in deep geological formations that had previously trapped oil and gas reserves for millions of years.

In addition, by pumping carbon dioxide under high pressure into old oil and gas fields, it is possible to get at some reserves that might otherwise have been unattainable.

Experiments are already underway in the North Sea. Norway's Statoil company, for instance, has buried carbon dioxide (CO2) under the North Sea since 1996.

Now, the British government believes it is time for the UK to extend current techniques.

Energy minister Malcolm Wicks outlined the strategy for carbon abatement on Tuesday, together with new initiatives on hydrogen, a fuel that many expect to play a major role in the replacement of fossil fuels.

Technical issues

Experts say carbon capture and storage is best applied to large stationary sources, such as power stations and industrial plants, where CO2 can be separated from the flue gases.

In 2002, about 35% of UK CO2 emissions were from energy industries. Applying CO2 capture to the likes of power stations therefore has the greatest potential to reduce current greenhouse emissions in the UK, experts believe.

The list of the 20 largest "point sources" in England and Wales in 2000 was made up of 16 power plants, three steel plants and one oil refinery.

However, there are many outstanding technical issues still to be resolved before carbon capture and storage is widely practised. All capture technologies consume energy and reduce the efficiency of a plant.

Industry will need to be convinced that the costs are affordable.

"It is certainly an expensive process; there's no doubt about it," Martin Blunt, a professor of petroleum engineering at Imperial College London, told BBC News.

"But you do get a return by increasing oil recovery. The question is to compare burning fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage against other technologies.

"This is what this funding will allow us to assess in great detail. It's likely the costs are comparable with nuclear power and renewables."

How the carbon capture scheme would work

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