Carbon storage captures Berlin′s approval | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 13.04.2011
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Carbon storage captures Berlin's approval

The German cabinet has agreed on a bill that calls for capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground. However, Germany's states aren't eager to implement the plan - and have a backdoor to get out of it.

A German coal plant

CCS promises to bury the carbon emissions of coal plants underground

Months of discussions have come to an end with Chancellor Angela Merkel's government reaching an agreement on Wednesday on a proposed law to push ahead with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in Germany.

Cabinet ministers approved the bill, calling it an important part of their plans to reduce the impact of carbon dioxide on the environment. Increasing levels of C02 are regarded as one of the primary causes for global climate change.

German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen said the bill, which allows state governments to decide if they will permit CCS facilities in their borders, represents a "good compromise" among state and federal government interests.

Path cleared

A person attaching a hose at the CCS trial site

Germany already has one trial CSS facility in Brandenburg

The proposed law calls for CCS trials to be permitted until 2017.

A study conducted by the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources identified more than 400 potential sites with geological conditions that could prove suitable for CCS facilities.

Areas with depleted gas fields and deep saline aquifers have the highest storage potential, according to the institute.

The process involves filtering carbon dioxide out of emissions from fossil-fuel burning power plants and pumping it underground before it can enter the atmosphere, where it can accumulate for centuries and compound the greenhouse effect.

By investing in CCS now, Röttgen said, German companies would gain valuable experience from which they could later profit when other nations embrace the technology.

Montage of wind turbines and solar energy panels

Green groups would rather see more investment in technology that doesn't create CO2

Opposition expected

CCS opponents say the long-term safety of pumping CO2 into the Earth remains unclear.

Many environmental groups say there is still no guarantee that CO2 will not leak from underground geological formations, and call instead for greater investment in technologies that don't produce greenhouse gases in the first place.

"The CCS bill was agreed upon by the government and the power industry," Greenpeace expert Karten Smid said. "Public participation was a farce."

Just how many German states will allow CCS programs in their borders also remains unclear.

Horst Meierhofer, an environmental affairs expert for the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), the junior party in Merkel's ruling coalition, said he expected states to have a difficult time getting people to trust the technology.

"No government is going to be able to get CCS approved in their state," he said.

Graphic shows the steps of CCS

German expertise could be valuable to companies if CCS become widespread

Friendly fire

Schleswig-Holstein Premier Peter Harry Carstensen, a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), headed the list of those opposed to CCS and said his state would be off limits.

"There will be no storing carbon dioxide in Schleswig-Holstein against our will," he said. "That's great news for our state."

CCS has been a hot topic in Germany. Chancellor Merkel's previous coalition government with the centre left Social Democrats failed in 2009 to agree on developing the technology.

The utility company Vattenfall operates a pilot project for separating carbon dioxide from one of its power plants in Brandenburg, however protest groups oppose plans to expand the initiative to deposit CO2 underground in the area.

The current German bill fulfills a European Union directive for member states to allow some form of CCS, but it must still receive parliamentary approval before becoming law.

Author: Sean Sinico (dpa, Reuters)

Editor: Nathan Witkop

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