Move to share technology may help Britain meet Kyoto promise but could be seen as squandering business opportunities
- guardian.co.uk, Sunday 3 May 2009 11.38 BST
The move may help Britain to belatedly meet its Kyoto protocol promise to pass on low-carbon technology to help poorer countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
However, questions may arise over how much should be given away for free and how much the UK should exploit the business opportunities of being a potential leader in the industry.
"We're approaching this from the mindset where we can co-operate more with China on things like carbon capture and storage," Miliband said.
While not abandoning the industrial potential of being a leader in the field, he said Britain could benefit from transferring knowledge.
"Eventually we hope to see this technology across the world because coal is something that is used in many countries and the key to that is making it a clean fuel of the future."
Miliband is visiting Beijing to try to forge common ground with Chinese officials ahead of crucial climate change talks later this year in Copenhagen. Britain hopes China will set voluntary targets to reduce the energy and carbon intensity of an economy that recently overtook the US as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
The central goal of China's mandarins is financial support and the transfer of clean-coal and other low-carbon technology from richer nations.
China is also pioneering its own solutions, as Miliband saw at the world's only commercially operating carbon capture facility, Huaneng Beijing cogeneration power plant.
Developed with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia and opened last July, the facility is on a relatively small scale but it claims 85% efficiency in capturing 3,000 tonnes of carbon each year. The recycled product is used for carbonated drinks and dry ice.
"The technology has been successful here so we can say it will be successful in other coal-fired plants," said the general manager, Cai Hongwang. "We could scale this up. We are now considering the market demand for carbon dioxide."
If production is ramped up, the captured carbon could be used for enhanced oil recovery or, in the longer term, possibly pumped into the deep ocean. Britain is considering sequestration of carbon in cavities under the North Sea bed that have been emptied of oil.
Several similar experiments will soon be launched in other parts of China, which is investing heavily in research into reducing the climate impact of coal. More than 70% of China's electricity is generated by coal. Over the next 10 years, the amount burned is expected to double.
According to the Chinese Academy of Science, a plant in Shanxi will capture carbon and use it as fertiliser, while another in Shaanxi may pump captured carbon into oil deposits to extract the fuel.
"It is better to convert carbon dioxide into products, but the demand is limited," said Xiao Yunhan, a government adviser and energy expert at the academy. "Sequestration will be the final solution for carbon dioxide control. But before that we should try other things."
To enhance technology transfer and co-operation on low-carbon projects, Miliband will tomorrow launch a £10m joint venture with the Carbon Trust and the Chinese Development Corporation to encourage British firms to enter the Chinese market.
He will give a speech at Peking University calling on China to take a leadership role in climate talks. "As an emergent great power, China, too, has the ability not just to act but to lead; to be great not just in size but in influence; to energise others around the world" he will say.