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in the UK
Within a decade the UK could capture and store carbon emissions under the North Sea as part of a plan to reduce emissions from power plants by 85%.

The UK government has announced £25 million of funding for the plan which will enable power stations and oil rigs to retain their gas emissions and pump them under the sea into old oil and gas reserves.

Although burying CO2 is not unique - Norway’s Statoil Company has buried CO2 under the North Sea for the past ten years - the UK initiative would embrace new techniques. Power stations and large industrial plants are ideal for carbon capture and storage; they cause more than a third of the UK’s total emissions, and the CO2 gas can actually be separated from other gases.

There is a still a long way to go before all the technical issues are resolved – and capture technologies in themselves consume energy and reduce plant efficiency. Costs could be exorbitant – but there is the possible bonus that the technique may open up previously unattainable oilfields.

Carbon sequestration is only part of a £40 million package announced to tackle climate change. Other projects include cleaner electricity generation from coal and gas and hydrogen and fuel cell technology.

richard branson’s $25 million climate bid prize
Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson recently launched a 25 million dollar prize in a bid to find innovative ways to remove significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The Earth Challenge prize will go to the best method to remove at least one billion tonnes of carbon per year from the atmosphere.

Carbon capture and storage is already a vital research area and scientists have been trying to remove and store it in oil and gas fields deep in the ocean. Other possible techniques include chemically transforming CO2 into solids or liquids that are thermodynamically stable. However there are worries the gas may leak or dissolve into the ocean devastating the delicate marine ecosystems. Other possible schemes include cleaning the CO2 out of the air – but the massive energy necessary needed for such a process may negate the benefits.

UK environmentalist Sir Crispin Tickell, climate scientist and head of the NASA Institute for Space Studies James Hansen are among the highly respected judging panel for Richard Branson’s twenty five million dollar prize. Al Gore, former presidential candidate, author of the global warming film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and Nobel Prize winner is also involved. Sir Richard Branson has already pledged £1.6 billion from his travel company profits.

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united states
Plankton and lengths of plastic tubing could be used to cut the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by one third, according to an American inventor. By using a special pump inventor Philip Kithil wants to exploit the behaviour of a barrel-shaped type of plankton called salps, which feed on algae and excrete dense pellets of carbon that sink to the bottom of the ocean. He believes his invention could also increase fish stocks and prevent hurricanes.

The idea is that a 1,000 metre long, 1.5 metre wide plastic tube would sit near the surface of the ocean and pump cold, nutrient-rich water from the deep to the surface. The nutrients encourage algae to flourish in shallower water and thus salp numbers can grow quickly and capture the carbon in their excretions. Mr Kithil has set up a company called Atmocean to build and market the invention and has said the US government is interested.

The plankton could possibly trap up to 4,000 tonnes of CO2 per 100,000 km sq of ocean a day and trap around 7.2 billion tonnes of CO2 every year. The pumps may help prevent severe hurricanes - which are powered from heat in the sea – by bringing down the temperature of an area of water if a storm was heading towards it. They could be turned on and off as necessary. Tests begin this year off the coast of Bermuda.

nuclear energy pact
An international energy consortium has signed a formal agreement to build an experimental nuclear fusion reactor which aims to produce clean and limitless energy from nuclear reactions like those that fuel the sun. It is the biggest and most expensive scientific experiment since the space station.

The multi-billion euro project, which will be based in France, hopes to produce electricity on the grid within 30 years. Known as Iter- or “on the way” the project involves the EU, South Korea Russia, China, the US India and Japan.

The green lobby is opposed to the project, believing the benefits have been oversold and the difficulties of waste production underplayed, and would prefer the money to be spent on proven projects. Others argue it is too expensive and will take two long.

Fans of the project argue that with the world’s energy due to increase by 60% in the next two decades and dwindling oil stocks, not to mention the fact that traditional sources of energy have on greenhouse gases and climate change, it is imperative to look at nuclear fission.

No-one underestimates the problems involved in imitating the fusion power of the sun. To initiate the fusion reaction hydrogen must be heated 10 times hotter than the core of the sun (to over 100 million Celsius, so the fuel particles can fuse. If these technical requirements can be overcome there are definite attractions – in particular the tiny amount of fuel needed. The release of energy from a fusion reaction is said to be 10 million times greater than from a typical chemical reaction such as burning a fossil fuel.

Carbon capture


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