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[OUDTSHOORN] An atlas of potential underground storage sites for carbon dioxide emissions will be compiled for South Africa as part of a plan to be using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology by 2020.

The atlas is being compiled by the Council for Geoscience and the Petroleum Agency of South Africa with funding from the South African National Energy Research Institute (SANERI) and a range of energy companies. It is scheduled to be completed in April 2010.

The South African Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage — which will oversee the compilation of the atlas and drive the CCS initiative in South Africa — was launched in Johannesburg last month (27 March).

The first planned test injection of carbon dioxide is planned for 2016 and a demonstration plant for 2020. SANERI, a government-funded body, will oversee the process. The atlas will cost two million South African rand (around US$219,000) while 25 million rand (around US$2.7 million) has been raised for the new centre.

"The most obvious carbon storage sites are likely to be where gas, oil or coal has been mined," Tony Surridge, SANERI's chief executive officer, told SciDev.Net.

Carbon capture and storage involves trapping carbon dioxide before it is released from power stations into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geological formations such as deep saline aquifers or depleted oil and gas mines.

The intense pressure underground changes the carbon dioxide gas into liquid, which is then absorbed by rock. The risk of the carbon escaping is said to be minimal.

Other countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are not included in the initiative but South Africa will make expertise available to neighbouring states should they decide to produce their own atlases or eventually set up their own carbon capture and storage plants.

African countries are growing increasingly interested in CCS. There is a carbon storage facility at In Salah, Algeria, and European agencies have held talks with the Botswana government for a possible facility. The Namibian and Mozambican governments have also expressed interest in the technology.

Surridge said CCS is intended to bridge the move from fossil fuels to renewable and nuclear energy. South Africa estimates that ten per cent of its total carbon emissions will be stored.

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