Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, launched an institute last week to galvanise large-scale demonstrations of carbon capture and storage (CCS) (or ‘clean coal’) technology [see Nature coverage here; press release].
Australia is ploughing AU$100m (£48m) a year into the Global CCS Institute (GCCSI). That money’s far short of the billions needed to finance commercial-scale projects. Instead, the GCCSI is acting as an oversight operation, smoothing the progress of those schemes which have been proposed. It will track projects and identify gaps in the types of projects that have been agreed on – perhaps even brokering new ones. The institute will also coordinate and pool knowledge gained from small-scale CCS pilots and analyze sticking points which are stopping projects moving forward.
If the GCCSI is to be successful it will have to get companies to share the lessons they learn from their tests – including information on what doesn’t work. “No-one really understands what knowledge needs to be shared at this time,” says GCCSI head Nick Otter, when queried on the difficulties that may pose for intellectual property.
It will also have to work carefully with existing organizations, such as the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s carbon capture programme and the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) – a network run by the US Department of Energy. These focus more on technical analyses of the technology, and on its surrounding policy and regulation. The CSLF – for a long time scorned on account of its American origins – may try to rejuvenate itself in a London meeting in October, now that it is backed by the Obama administration.
Ultimately networks like these are necessary but not sufficient for getting CCS demonstrations off the ground. What’s needed is a massive amount of public spending.
Richard van Noorden