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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Clean Coal: It’s No Easier in Europe

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That alone might not cut it (ESTIF)

February 14, 2008, 3:16 pm
Posted by Keith Johnson
Guy Chazan reports:

In one way at least, Europe resembles the U.S. in clean-energy policy: It’s all talk and little action on clean coal.

Finding a way to keep burning relatively cheap, abundant coal is almost as crucial to Europe’s future energy outlook as it is in the U.S. Capturing carbon-dioxide emissions produced by coal-fired power plants and sticking them underground is seen by many as the best way to mitigate climate change and keep economies running.

Europe supports the idea of capturing carbon—it wants to have a dozen demonstration clean-coal plants running by 2015, and is mulling making carbon capture and storage mandatory. But not enough to pony up and pay for the “tens of billions of euros” it will cost.

The European Union says there is “no possibility of significant funding from the EU budget” for clean coal. Instead, “public-private partnerships fed predominantly by national budgets and private-sector investment” will have to suffice.

Ask the FutureGen alliance how well that works. Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy pulled the plug on its big, clean-coal project because of cost overruns. Now, the U.S. government says it will funnel research cash to other clean coal projects.

Europe’s slow-go approach has some companies steaming. Anglo-Dutch oil major Royal Dutch Shell figures 90% of fossil-fuel power plants in the developed world could be fitted with clean-coal technology by 2050. But that could only come true if the European Union got a clutch of demonstration projects off the drawing board and into production.

“You’ve got to have a way of channeling investment into that arena,” says Jeremy Bentham, author of Shell’s newly-unveiled energy scenarios. “The pace of required development is actually higher than the European system can easily accommodate,” he says.

The technology to capture carbon already exists, and companies like Shell have been pumping carbon dioxide underground for years to keep oil wells flowing. The tricky part is to put all the pieces together at a large power plant—especially when adding clean-coal technology can tack on an extra $1 billion to the plant’s cost. Those extra costs, which helped sink FutureGen, are curtailing plans for other plants. Last year, BP scrapped a clean-coal plant in Scotland due to government funding delays.

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