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Too late for clean coal? -

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Too late for clean coal?

Broadcast: 03/09/2009

Reporter: Margot O'Neill

Amid the dire predictions of climate change - international governments and the fossil fuel
industry are clinging to the promise of clean coal technology. But some are warning that it may
already be too late for clean coal, unless billions of dollars are poured into the technology very
quickly.

Transcript

RAFAEL EPSTEIN, PRESENTER: Amid the dire predictions of climate change, international governments
and the fossil fuel industry are clinging to the promise of clean coal.

They say there is no Plan B. If we can't develop the technology to capture and bury carbon
emissions from coal-fired power station, then they say the world simply won't be able to save
itself from dangerous climate change.

But some are warning it may already be too late for clean coal unless billions of dollars are
poured into the technology very quickly.

Margot O'Neill reports.

MARGOT O'NEIL, REPORTER: It's been a promise since the late 1990s.

The plan to strip out CO2 from power station emission and then pipe the gas into deep storage. This
process of carbon capture and storage or CCS would not only help secure the future for the climate
but also for Australia's largest export money spinner: coal.

RALPH HILLMAN, AUSTRALIAN COAL ASSOCIATION: We are putting in place in Australia the infrastructure
to allow us to continue to increase our exports, but we are also investing in the technology that
allow ... that will allow coal in Australia and elsewhere to be burnt with a substantial reduction
in its emissions of 80 to 90 per cent.

This technology isn't pie in the sky, it's all proven in the lab or in other parts of industry.

MARGOT O'NEIL: But despite more than a decade of discussion, not one industrial-sized plant has
been built.

Now key promoters of CCS in Australia say time is running out to win public confidence and maintain
political support. Like Professor Robin Batterham, former chief scientist to the Federal Government
who works for mining giant Rio Tinto. He spoke to us in his capacity as President of the Australian
Academy of Technological Sciences.

ROBIN BATTERHAM, AUSTRALIAN ACADEMY OF TECHNOLOGICAL SCIENCES: If within three years from now we
don't see some of these large-scale plants actually happening, then people are going to say, "This
is not a real alternative".

NICK OTTER, GLOBAL CCS INSTITUTE: I tend to agree with that sort of statement. The most urgent
thing that's necessary is to really get to large-scale demonstration.

MARGOT O'NEIL: Nick Otter is the CEO of the Global CCS Institute set up by Prime Minister Kevin
Rudd to galvanise international action on CCS.

NICK OTTER: We are mandated to accelerate the process of deployment which really means take
encouraging - and removing barriers to the demonstration plants.

MARGOT O'NEIL: Former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, who is now his state's Trade Commissioner
in Los Angeles has long urged the coal industry to increase CCS funding, saying coal risks being
left behind if CCS can't be proven quickly because of a huge push in the United States towards
renewable energy.

PETER BEATTIE, FORMER QLD PREMIER: Carbon capture and storage is seen as part of the green
solution, otherwise if not, you are going to find this trend in the United States against coal is
going to grow in momentum, and we'll have problems. There is a very significant anti-coal movement
here.

MARGOT O'NEIL: Industry and the Federal Government have committed more than $4 billion to CCS over
the next decade, but billions more are needed according to one of Australia's leading CCS experts.

Dr Kelly Thambimuthu chairs the greenhouse gas research and development program for the
International Energy Agency. He says just one CCS power plant will cost about $4 billion and a
staggering $20 billion is needed to build four plants with pipes and storage costs.

DR KELLY THAMBIMUTHU, INTERNATIONAL ENERGY AGENCY: We have yet to get the first plant up. There's
nothing in the horizon that tells me that we are going to get a plant up earlier than 2015 or 2016.

To spread ourselves thin, in tackling this problem at the present moment means we might not be able
to get anything off the ground.

MARGOT O'NEIL: The global expectations for how CCS will slash greenhouse gases are huge.

DR KELLY THAMBIMUTHU: To take out of the order of 9 billion tonnes of CO2 between now and 2050.

MARGOT O'NEIL: That means building 50 gas or coal-fired CCS power stations every year from 2010.
But without even one operating plant, that could prove difficult.

Treasury modelling shows CCS won't have any impact on Australian emission levels until after 2035.

RICHARD DENNISS, AUSTRALIA INSTITTUE: Assuming that by 2035 they can invent it the problem is the
science says that's way too late. If we don't get serious emission reductions in the next 10 years
the science says, forget about two degrees, basically some models say forget about predicting what
is going to happen.

MARGOT O'NEIL: But there's no other choice according to most CCS experts, saying coal will continue
to be a substantial source of the cheap energy in the developing world.

NICK OTTER: Yes, there is a big investment. But this is what we have to do. To me, anyway, and it's
a personal view, I guess. There isn't a Plan B.

MARGOT O'NEIL: The Federal Government will announce grants to try to kick start industrial scale
CCS plants later this year.