While the announcement of a joint plan between China and the United States to curb carbon emissions recently made headlines around the world, the two nations have been cooperating for nearly a decade on producing efficient methods of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).
The International Energy Agency claims that CCUS technology will play a major role in cutting emissions to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. CCUS involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and industrial facilities, and either storing them underground or utilizing them in industrial processes, such as in enhanced oil recovery. Utilizing the captured carbon is a common way to offset the high costs associated with the technology.
In 2009, President Obama and then President Hu Jintao established three US-China Clean Energy Research Centers, dedicated to information sharing between the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, one of which focused on coal and CCUS technology. In July of this year, China and the US established eight new partnership agreements, many of which are related to carbon capture, utilization and storage. In addition, the partnerships will facilitate agreements between Chinese and American companies and research institutions.
Collaboration is crucial for the development and adoption of CCUS technologies. Over the last few years, excitement in the US about carbon capture technology has begun to fade, along with investment. This is partly due to the high cost of constructing CCUS facilities compared to traditional coal plants, and the increased availability of cheap natural gas.
In China, however, an increased interest in clean energy, particularly in light of high levels of pollution in its major cities, has spurred the government to double its budget for carbon capture projects, with the hope of attracting around $380 million in investment. There are currently 11 CCUS projects in operation in China, many of which have been constructed with the help of US companies.
The US relies on coal for 50% of its electricity generation, while that figure is 70% in China. Collaboration on CCUS between the world’s two largest economies can help accelerate the development of more efficient and cost-effective technologies, while encouraging its use elsewhere in the world.
Jonathan Gordon is a graduate of the University of Sydney, and a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C.