Germany Approves Carbon Capture: Parliament Gives Green Light for Emissions-Friendly Technology

The German parliament has granted its approval for testing carbon capture and storage technology, which enables coal-fired power plants to liquify their pollutants and store them underground. Critics claim the potential dangers of the technology have been inadequately addressed.

Swedish utility giant Vattenfall's Jänschwalde plant is one site where CCS testing in planned. Zoom
DPA

Swedish utility giant Vattenfall's Jänschwalde plant is one site where CCS testing in planned.

It may be akin to the Earth wrapping its lips around a tail pipe and inhaling deeply, but it also viewed as one of the most promising technologies for curbing emissions of climate-killing gases. On Thursday, the German parliament voted to approve testing of controversial carbon capture and storage technology in Germany, which allows power plants that emit environmentally unfriendly carbon dioxide into the air to instead liquefy the pollutant and pump it into underground cavities. The Bundestag voted 306-266 on the issue.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has been heralded by many politicians and researchers as one of the most promising technologies available today for eliminating carbon dioxide emissions. Many see it as one of the best means available to buy time while also emitting less pollution into the environment until renewable energy sources become more affordable and feasible.

The decision to test CCS in Germany is highly controversial, with many residents contesting the technology, which they believe is dangerous. Leaders of local citizens' initiatives who fear it will present a threat to humans, animals and the environment have been conducting a not-in-my-backyard campaign against the technology for several years now.

Jens Koeppen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats in parliament, complained of an environment of scaremongering and "German angst" against CCS. In Germany, more than 40 percent of electricity is derived from fossil fuels, and without CCS, Koeppen warned, the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius would be unachievable. "There are few risks associated with this technology," he added.

Matthias Miersche, a prominent member of the opposition center-left Social Democrats, however, warned that potential dangers posed by CCS, such as the risk that carbon dioxide could contaminate ground water, had not been adequately addressed.

Environmentalists Offer Mixed Views

Environmental organizations have mixed views of the technology. Greenpeace and BUND, the German chapter of Friends of the Earth, reject it, saying it merely provides an environmentally friendly face that will perpetuate the use of unsustainable fossil fuels. But WWF supports the testing of CCS as promising means of achieving emissions reductions.

Controversially, the law passed Thursday includes an opt-out for states like Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony where opposition to CCS technology is considerable. Many have criticized the opt-out, saying it will greatly weaken the potential for innovation with CCS and make it far less attractive to energy companies. Earlier this year, Klaus von Trotha of IZ Klima, an industrial association that lobbies for the use of CCS, told SPIEGEL the law will "tend to prevent us from finally being able to demonstrate the technology in a large-scale industrial application." And Felix Matthes, an energy expert with the Institute for Applied Ecology in Berlin, called opt-outs a "serious setback for climate protection."

The legislation, which is the German implementation of a European Union regulation, still requires the approval the Bundesrat, Germany's second legislative chamber, which represents the interests of the states.

Most of the testing is expected to take place in the eastern state of Brandenburg, where Swedish utility giant Vattenfall plans to construct a 250-megawatt demonstration power plant. The plant is expected to cost €1.5 billion, with €180 million of that price tag coming from the European Union subsidies. A few weeks ago, the company also began a pilot test of CCS at a plant in Ketzin.

The German government plans to test CCS through 2017. Berlin is hoping the technology will not only help to reduce emissions, but will also prove to be an export hit.

dsl -- with wire reports

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Graphic: How carbon dioxide sequestration works Zoom
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Graphic: How carbon dioxide sequestration works


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