Clean coal advocates want the Government to lend a hand to make the first commercial-sized plants affordable.
Carbon capture and storage involves capturing carbon dioxide from emitters, such as coal power plants, then storing the CO2 far away from the atmosphere, potentially injecting the gas deep below the Earths’ surface or the ocean.
It is a complicated process that has both engineering and environmental challenges and now financial ones too.
Nick Otter is the chief executive of the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, which was set up by the Federal Government to fast track projects using clean coal technology.
“That’s what you get from doing these large scale demonstrations,” he said.
“You get a proper understanding of the cost issues associated with it. With CO2 coming from fossil fuels, carbon capture and storage – or CCS as we call it – will be a critical element of the portfolio to meet the CO2 reductions worldwide, no doubt.”
The institute – at the cost of $100 million a year – has found the viability of clean coal power stations will not be possible until a carbon price reaches a minimum of $60 a tonne.
Mr Otter says there are more than 200 active or planned clean carbon projects around the world using that technology.
But according to the institute’s new audit, only seven projects are operating around the world and all are on gas processing plants, not coal.
He says the G8 goal of getting 20 projects operational by 2020 will not be possible unless there are some major reforms.
“The barriers are having the right sort of financial incentives,” he said.
“These are new technology movers, regulatory areas, making sure that they are appropriately defined, public acceptance – ensuring that the public is comfortable with the technology.”
The Federal Government has already promised $2.4 billion to build demonstration projects over the next nine years.
The revelation of a high price of carbon capture is not news to energy policy consultant Hugh Saddler.
“This is absolutely not a surprise that they’ve come out and said that,” he said.
“If they had said something different it would have been a surprise.”
He says some further Government assistance will be required.
“Given the importance this is seen to be for the long-term future of the coal industry, the profitability of the coal industry and that it’s a well-established industry, the industry should certainly be putting a lot of money in as well,” he said.
Mr Saddler says there are considerable additional costs of generating electricity through carbon capture and storage, compared to an existing power station.
“The difference is equivalent to $60 a tonne of CO2 coming from a conventional power station,” he said.
“Just the cost of all the complex engineering for the carbon capture and the cost of compressing the CO2 and piping it and injecting it underground.”
He says proponents of clean coal should be chipping in a similar amount to those in the renewable sector.