Carbon Sequestration Focus of Leadership Forum

WASHINGTON, DC, June 23, 2003 (ENS) - Energy ministers from 14 countries and the European Union gathered today in Tyson's Corner, Virginia for a three day discussion of ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using commercially workable carbon capture and storage technologies known as carbon sequestration.

The first meeting of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, hosted by the U.S. State and Energy Departments, will identify potential areas of multilateral cooperation on carbon sequestration - the capture and permanent storage of carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels is one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

Countries represented at the forum include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Russian Federation, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Current plans call for government officials to convene formally twice a year.

In addition to exchanging information, delegations attending the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum will identify joint projects that bring together government and private sector representatives from member countries. The forum will provide an international venue for planning future, multilateral carbon sequestration projects.

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U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham (Photo courtesy DOE)
One such project would be the new prototype power plant called FutureGen that was announced by U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in February. This government-industry project, estimated to cost one billion dollars over the next 10 years, would combine electricity and hydrogen production with the virtual total elimination of harmful emissions.

The hydrogen produced by the plant will be used as a clean fuel for electric power generation. Carbon sequestration will be one of the primary features that sets the prototype plant apart from other electric power projects, with the initial goal calling for capture of at least 90 percent of the plant's carbon dioxide.

In the future, the plant could become a model hydrogen production facility for President George W. Bush's initiative to develop a new fleet of hydrogen powered cars and trucks. The United States will use the opening meeting of the Leadership Forum to invite other nations to join the FutureGen initiative.

Mike Smith, assistant secretary for fossil energy at the Energy Department, told reporters before the conference that international cooperation will help avoid duplication of work, save money and speed needed breakthroughs in carbon sequestration technologies.

"The forum will collaborate on research and development projects to reflect the priorities by member nations," he said. "And the forum will interact with all sectors of the international research community, including industry, the academic community, and government and nongovernment organizations."

The development of carbon sequestration technologies as a means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions is a key component of President Bush's climate change initiative, which calls for reducing America's greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent over the next 10 years. Tied to economic productivity, greenhouse gas intensity is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product.

The forum will focus on technologies to separate carbon dioxide from the emissions of coal fired power plants and store it in underground geological formations.

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American researchers launch a sensor, known as a robotic carbon observer, equipped with instruments for measuring organic and inorganic carbon, both in solution and tied up in particles. (Photo courtesy Lawrence Berkeley National Lab)
Possible storage places include oil and gas reservoirs, unmineable coal seams and deep saline reservoirs, or the ocean depths.

Forests, crop and agricultural lands, and in wetlands can also sequester carbon dioxide.

The technology to accomplish sequestration exists today, but it can raise energy costs by 50 percent or more. The goal of sequestration research and development is to achieve sequestration with less than a 10 percent increase in energy system costs, or roughly $10 per ton of carbon emissions avoided.

Energy experts believe it will be necessary to employ these new technologies to stabilize and ultimately reduce concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which are expected to increase in the future.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from human activities are projected to increase 60 percent by 2020 as many nations continue to rely on coal, oil and natural gas to fuel economic growth.

Because of its abundance and low cost, coal now accounts for more than half of the electricity generated in the United States. While many countries, including the United States, are committed to the use of renewable energy sources, fossil energy use for power generation worldwide is projected to double by 2030.

The International Energy Agency estimates that overall world coal use will increase by about 50 percent between now and 2030 and by nearly two-thirds for power generation, mostly in developing countries like India and China.

Smith said that international cooperation is already underway in some areas of carbon sequestration. At the Weyburn oil recovery project in Saskatchewan, Canada carbon dioxide from the Great Plains Coal Gasification Plant in the state of North Dakota is being injected into an active oil field. Scientists from 18 nations are monitoring the project to determine if the carbon dioxide remains sequestered in the field.

The only commercial geological sequestration effort to inject carbon dioxide into a saline formation is taking place under the North Sea. Since 1996, the Norwegian oil company Statoil has injected about one million tons each year of recovered carbon dioxide into the Utsira Sand, a saline formation under the North Sea. The amount being sequestered is equivalent to the output of a 150 megawatt coal fired power plant.