LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY // For years, industrialists have sought to pump carbon emissions permanently underground to combat climate change. But their expensive plans have often been scuppered by locals hostile to the idea of burying potentially dangerous greenhouse gases in their vicinity.
A company in Germany's industrial heartland has an alternative proposal: bury it in mattresses.
Bayer, a chemicals conglomerate, is testing a technology that uses captured carbon emissions to make the foam used in mattresses and car seat cushions. The idea is that by replacing some of the fossil fuel feedstock normally used to make such products, energy can be conserved and greenhouse gases locked away.
"We are seeing CO2 not as a waste but as a raw material," said Tony Van Osselaer, the head of industrial operations at Bayer.
Technologies that use carbon dioxide in chemicals, tested in a €9 million (Dh41.1m) laboratory funded by the German government and the utility RWE, could eventually help to sequester 180,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, Bayer estimates.
Although that is only a tiny portion of global carbon emissions, which came to 30 billion tonnes last year, the technology represents an alternative to carbon burial projects that have difficulty finding sites with willing neighbours, or a carbon price high enough to make the projects economical.
The UAE is one of a handful of nations that plan to inject carbon dioxide into oilfields but has had difficulty getting the company selling the emissions and those using them to agree on a price.
Last year, 11 carbon capture and storage projects were cancelled or delayed, according to the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute in Canberra. But the world needs 100 carbon burial projects in the next eight years and 3,000 by 2050 if it is to avoid the worst effects of climate change, says the Paris-based International Energy Agency.
The question of how to get rid of carbon emissions is of particular importance to Germany, home to the most hostile backlash against nuclear power anywhere in the world after the disaster at a nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan.
After the triple meltdown in March last year, Germany accelerated its phase-out of nuclear energy and aims to shut down all plants by 2022. That will require the nation to extend the life of gas and coal-fired plants, as well as build new ones.
Bayer hopes to scale up the technology and sell the foam's precursor as soon as 2015 - the same year nations have set as a deadline to come to a new climate change agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty between 36 nations to make cuts in emissions.
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