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雅思阅读考试:What's in store

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  雅思阅读: What's in store

  Three weeks ago the government scrapped plans to build the country's first carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility at Longannet power station in Fife in Scotland. That was a blow in the fight against climate change: if carbon dioxide can be stripped out of power plant emissions and other factories and stored safely underground, fossil fuels could be used without such damage to the planet. The government has promised to pay £1 billion for a pilot project. Since the Longannet work was going to cost more to build than that, it was abandoned.

  Even as that project was being ditched, government officials were quietly murmuring about a proposal for CCS at a gas-fired power station at Petershead, Aberdeenshire. Sure enough, a few weeks on another piece of good news has dribbled out: SSE, which runs the Petershead plant, has teamed up with Shell on the project it is proposing. SSE had already applied for European funding for CCS at Petershead. But the tie-up with the oil and gas major is new.

  It's certainly a good idea. This should give SSE extra cash to help fund a detailed engineering design. As importantly, it means that, if the project goes ahead, the gas will be transported to the Shell-operated Goldeneye gas field in the North Sea. The idea is to use existing infrastructure as far as possible.

  Shell is clearly keen to get involved in CCS — it was also a partner of Scottish Power in the Longannet project (National Grid was involved too). That makes sense. If this technology can be made to work, there could be a fabulous commercial business for Britain and for the companies involved. The International Energy Agency estimates that 850 projects will be needed globally by 2030. And since many countries in Europe do not have easy or obvious places to store their CO2 emissions, there may be an opportunity for companies like Shell to make a lot of money importing other people's waste.

  There's an added reason why CCS may be a good business bet. There's a suggestion that pumping CO2 into a former oil field could help force out some of the remaining reserves which are ordinarily hard to get at, a process known as enhanced oil recovery. That makes CCS more cost-effective, because one of the by-products has a high value and should mean a plant needs less financial support. It also makes it a particularly appealing prospect for a company such as Shell that has been extracting oil and gas from the North Sea for decades and has already used up many of the easiest fields.

  But it's far too early for any talk of a bonanza for SSE and Shell, or for Britain. The two companies are clearly waiting for ministers to throw them some money before they do anything at all. The government gave around £30m towards the Longannet project plan. They also hope to receive money from Europe for the pilot. Even if the money comes through, the firms won't be in a position to begin a full engineering design until the second half of next year. So this week's news is good — but Britain's first carbon capture and storage plant remains a very long way off.

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