A carbon capture boom is unlikely near term in China, the world's top greenhouse gas polluter, because its coal-burning plants are inefficient, said global warming activist Al Gore.

I'm not saying it's technologically impossible, but a lot of the coal plants in China are old technology. They are thermally inefficient ... and they have to use a lot of energy to capture and store the CO2, former U.S. Vice President Gore told a panel at the Cornell Global Forum on Sustainable Enterprise late Wednesday.

Capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground have been touted as a way of keeping the gas out of the atmosphere to help slow global warming. Many geologists say China has plenty of formations under ground that could store the gas permanently.

The process is becoming a hot topic as China and the United States, the world's second worst emitter, begin to work together in an effort to slow global warming. At a meeting in Copenhagen in December nearly 200 countries will try to hash out a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.

But carbon capture and storage would burn about half the energy that China's old-style coal plants produce. It's hard to see how it's going to work, said Gore.


He said carbon storage may be feasible for more modern, efficient coal plants. For example, a company called SCS Energy hopes to build an efficient coal-burning plant in New Jersey that would liquefy the gas, pipe it, and bury it 2 miles (3.2 km) beneath the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

The so-called parasitic load on the planned SCS plant for carbon capture would only be about 23 percent, a lawyer for the company told Reuters. And the New Jersey plant also plans to make products besides electricity, such as fertilizer, which would help with the costs.

Gore suggested that despite the prospects for carbon catpure and storage in China, it could still find many ways to fight emissions.

Across south Asia people burn fuel such as dung, crop waste and wood in millions of small stoves that produce soot, or black carbon, that builds up during the dry season above the Himalayas and settles on the ice and snow. That cuts the ability for the snow to reflect the sun's rays back into the atmosphere and may add to melting of the region's glaciers.

If China and India and other countries in the region mandated the use of stoves that produce less soot, it would be an example of how rich and poor countries can cooperate on climate change, Gore said.

Scientists and innovators have already promoted a small number of solar and biogass cookers in Asia, although it's not yet certain how well they are being adopted.