An Australian-led initiative to support the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology has received strong support from the international energy community.

The Global CCS Institute – launched with financial support from the Australian government in September 2008 – has attracted several major energy industry names as founding members. The goal of the Institute is to fast-track the commercialisation of CCS technology by supporting a global portfolio of demonstration projects.

Companies joining the Institute as founding members include Alstom, Shell, Mitsubishi Corporation and Xstrata Coal. They share the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA) that CCS technology will play a critical role in addressing climate change.

“Our interest in CCS technology and its commercialisation is a long-standing one,” said Joan MacNaughton, Senior Vice President of Power and Environmental Policies at Alstom Power Systems. “Whichever technology is employed, CO2 reduction and capture technologies need to be incorporated in new power plants but also added to existing ones wherever they can, in a cost-effective manner and as soon as possible.”

Other founding members of the Institute include Anglo-American, Rio Tinto, Schlumberger and The Climate Group.

The Australian government is backing the initiative to the tune of A$100 million/year, and has also offered to host the Institute. Development of CCS technology is of particular importance to the country, which depends on coal for 80 per cent of its electricity generation.

Coal is also Australia’s largest source of export earnings, contributing an estimated $43 billion in 2008-09.

Shell estimates that CCS technology could cut global CO2 emissions by more than a third by 2050. It says it will “actively participate” in the Institute’s programmes.

“A safe and cost-effective way to capture and store CO2 from coal, oil and natural gas is imperative if we are going to meet the challenge of increase energy demand and the need to tackle climate change,” said Graham Sweeney, Shell’s executive vice president of future fuels and CO2.

The IEA estimates that CCS could provide one-quarter of the required CO2 emission reductions in 2050 and that without CCS, reducing CO2 emissions to the same extent could cost $1300 billion per year more. Together with the G8, the IEA has recommended that 20 CCS demonstration projects should be developed by 2020.

The Australian government hopes that the Global CCS Institute will promote cooperation between organizations and governments that are actively involved in developing CCS. A key element of its work will be developing regulatory settings and frameworks, which are seen as vital to stable carbon prices and the development of low carbon technologies.

“We applaud the Australian government’s leadership in setting up this Institute and we look forward to playing an active role in its work,” said MacNaughton. “We expect to offer CCS commercially from about 2015, assuming that the policy and financial conditions for CCS to be deployed are met. These include the regulatory framework, funding for the first wave of large-scale demo plants, and a stable and strong CO2 pricing regime.”