Energy research: grasping transatlantic opportunities.

AuthorYoshida, Phyllis
PositionEnvironment and Energy

On both sides of the Atlantic, and indeed around the world, we face the twin challenges of energy security and global climate-change. And in both Europe and America lie much of the world's expertise on the clean-energy technologies needed to address these challenges: energy efficiency technology for buildings, industry and transport, renewable energy technology, nuclear-energy technology and the technology for carbon capture-and-storage.

We have an EU-U.S. road map in place to look at all of these areas (except for nuclear power, where the degree of interest varies among EU member states) and are actively engaged in discussions on where we might cooperate.

Let me start with carbon capture-and-storage (CCS) since some people are skeptical about a technology that focuses on continuing to use the very fuel that is causing so much of the carbon dioxide build-up in the first place. But because so many countries rely heavily on coal--including China and the United States, both of which get more than half of their electric power from cheap and abundant coal resources--clean-coal use is an essential focus. It is important to face this challenge head on because it will take a long time to make changes: coal plants have lifetimes of fifty or more years.

In terms of technology, there are in fact two distinct challenges. First, how do you separate carbon and hydrogen in a coal-fired power plant in a way that is reasonably affordable? In the case of new plants, the separation can take place prior to combustion. For retrofits, which are of great interest in view of the huge park of coal-fired power plants already in place, the separation must be post-combustion. Secondly, how do you ensure that the carbon dioxide can be stored indefinitely underground or underwater so that it does not leak back into the atmosphere?

To address the first challenge, the Department of Energy plans to invest around two billion dollars on the carbon capture-and-storage components of three different power plants. A parallel program has also started to emerge in Europe and the European Commission anticipates that several CCS plants will open in the next few years. One of these plants, funded by the United Kingdom, received nine competing bids to start construction next year and could be completed as early as 2014. We understand that the Commission is going to set up an intra-net for project participants to facilitate sharing the best practices and avoiding expensive mistakes...

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