Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has long tantalised the world with a promise that, to many, seems an impossible dream: guilt free energy from oil and coal.
Cancun captures comfort for UAE
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has long tantalised the world with a promise that, to many, seems an impossible dream: guilt-free energy from oil and coal.
In theory, huge amounts of carbon dioxide - a gas linked with global warming - from power stations, industrial plants, and even eventually fossil-fuel-powered vehicles and the atmosphere itself could be captured.
It could then be piped to permanent storage locations.
Initially, those would be porous, underground rock formations filled with salt water, in which the gas is soluble.
In the long-term, caches of highly saline water in ocean troughs might also be used for storing carbon dioxide.
Opponents of CCS claim it offers a "techno-fix" that would merely postpone the need to supersede fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy.
Its proponents argue just as passionately that without CCS, limiting climate change will be impossible.
"CCS isn't the answer but there is no answer to climate change without CCS," Dr Graeme Sweeney, the chairman of the European Technology Platform for Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants, said at last week's CCS workshop at the UN climate change summit in Cancun.
"Without CCS, the cost of meeting the climate change threat will be very high and the climate goals impossible to meet," said John Novak, the executive director of the Electric Power Research Institute, based in the US.
Joan MacNaughton, the senior vice president of power and environmental policies at Alstom Power, a unit of the French power and transport group Alstom, said: "The key thing is to create a market for CCS."
CCS was the main issue on which the UAE had hoped for progress at Cancun as Abu Dhabi is seeking to become the world's first government to develop a nation-wide CCS network. The Government plans to build pipelines to transport carbon dioxide from large industrial plants to ageing oilfields, where the gas would be used to flush out more crude before being permanently sealed underground.
An international fiscal, regulatory and policy framework to support the first industrial-scale CCS developments, however, is needed for the UAE and other Gulf oil exporters to contribute meaningfully to international targets for cutting carbon emissions.
Already, OPEC is deeply concerned about deteriorating security of demand for its crude. Its members' involvement in large-scale CCS projects is one of the few options available for assuaging such uncertainty.