By Roger Harrabin
Britain and the EU will next week announce plans to hand China the technology for a power station designed to combat climate change.
Carbon disposal technology seeks "secure geological storage"
The coal plant will capture its own emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) and bury them in porous rock measures underground.
The deal will be announced by the Prime Minister at an EU summit.
"Carbon capture and storage" projects using similar technology are also being planned for the UK and elsewhere.
Carbon capture involves removing carbon dioxide from emissions by one of three methods - separating it from the power plant's exhaust stream; burning with pure oxygen to increase the amount of CO2 in the flue gas and aid recovery; or separating the hydrogen and CO2 in the fossil fuel before it is burned.
The carbon dioxide is then pumped at pressure into porous rocks where it is expected to stay for a thousand years or more. By then it is anticipated that carbon-free energy sources will have been developed.
By 2030, China's CO2 emissions from coal use will double, says Britain's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) which is co-ordinating the UK side of the China scheme.
It is proposing joint research and development between UK, European and Chinese partners, involving academic, research institute and industry partners - leading, it is hoped, towards a demonstration project starting up between 2010 and 2015.
Oil firms in the US have been pumping carbon dioxide into oil-bearing rocks for decades in order to squeeze out more oil. The CO2 lubricates the particles of oil in rock cavities.
Politicians are now hoping the technology will allow nations to use fossil fuels with impunity.
BP have announced a power plant at Peterhead in Aberdeenshire from which the CO2 will be piped to the Miller oil field under the North Sea, which had been due to close by 2007.
It is hoped that injecting CO2 into the deposits will force out more oil, extending the life of the field by at least 15 years.
A medium scale demonstration capture and storage plant is being developed by the EU in Germany and should be ready by 2008. The US hopes to have a large-scale demo plant operating by around 2015.
EU officials hope that the Chinese venture will also deliver by around the same date (2015)
Getting China involved in carbon storage is a sign that, despite the diplomatic rows over climate, major nations are working together in some ways.
The China initiative builds on recent G8 discussions. Phase one is worth a few million pounds. It aims to spread knowledge about the technology among Chinese experts, and to identify rocks where the CO2 could be stored.
Gao Guangsheng - director-general of China's National Development Reform Commission - told the BBC China was very concerned about the effects of climate change on glaciers and coastlines, so would be delighted to co-operate.
Pay the cost
"China attaches great importance to addressing climate change issues because China is a country that is vulnerable to climate change," said Mr Gao.
Details have not been resolved yet over phase 2 - particularly over who will eventually pay the extra cost entailed in storing the carbon.
Peterhead power station is the site of a planned carbon capture project
Mr Gao said they did not cause the climate problem and they expected the EU or the US to pick up the whole tab.
Environmentalists are warming to the idea of carbon storage as a way of allowing developing nations to increase their economies while protecting the climate.
But some of them fear that climate change is advancing faster than the attempts to combat it.
Tom Burke, visiting professor at Imperial College London, comments that of all the world's scarce environmental resources, the most scarce is time.