LONDON, Nov 7 (Reuters) Capturing carbon emissions from power stations and burying them could be a major weapon in the fight against global warming, but to date there has been little sense of urgency anywhere, a leading geologist said.
Stuart Haszeldine of Edinburgh University's School of GeoSciences said yesterday there was enough geological capacity around the world to safely store up to 400 years of climate warming carbon emissions from power stations for thousands of years.
But development of the technology was minimal and almost nowhere was there any sign of recognition that the vital window of opportunity to develop and deploy it before catastrophic climate change kicked in would be open for a only few years.
''We need to make significant progress in the next 10 to 15 years or the planet will simply get hotter and hotter,'' Haszeldine told a news conference.
''Carbon Capture and Storage could be 20 to 30 per cent of the climate solution globally,'' he said. ''We are making progress. But there is not enough strategic urgency behind this.'' The European Union announced earlier this year plans for pilot Carbon Capture and Storage projects to be running by 2015.
Britain has said it will hold a competition to build a CCS plant, Norway is running a trial project under the North Sea and the United States will open a plant by 2012.
But China, fast overtaking the United States as the biggest carbon pulluter, is building a coal-fired power plant every week and, scientists say, none are readily capable of being fitted with future carbon capture technology.
CRITICAL POINT But the crisis was reaching the critical point, Haszeldine said, noting that the latest figures showed actual atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were closely tracking the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's worst case scenario.
If this trend continued, then far from rising by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius this century as scientists predict, global average temperature increases could hit 8.0 degrees, he said.
Carbon Capture and Storage grabs the carbon dioxide from coal, oil, gas or biomass either before it is burned in power stations or as it goes up the chimney, liquefies it and pumps it under pressure deep underground.
Obvious geological structures for storage are depleted oil wells where the liquefied carbon dioxide occupies the space previously taken by the crude.
But Haszeldine said this was expensive and oil was not evenly spread around the globe.
A better option, he said, was in salt water acquifers in which the carbon dioxide would eventually dissolve, creating in effect vast underground lakes of fizzy water.
These, he said, were amply available and evenly distributed.
While there was no absolute guarantee that the carbon dioxide would not leak back into the atmosphere, such an eventuality was unlikely, Haszeldine said.
REUTERS RC ND0928