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The United Kingdom is to spend £3.5 million (US$6.1 million) over a period of three years researching 'clean coal' technologies with China. The aim is to develop power stations that emit less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

China's deputy science minister Liu Yanhua and UK chief scientist David King signed the deal during King’s visit to Beijing on 20 December.

The joint project will assess different technologies for capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) released by coal-burning power stations, and the potential for storing the gas underground.

This partnership is part of a broader EU-China collaboration on clean coal technology announced in September (see EU and China agree climate change partnership). It aims to have a prototype plant with the capacity for carbon capture and storage operating in China by 2020.

King says researching and adopting clean energy technologies are the only ways of balancing the development needs of emerging economies such as China and India with the increased CO2 emissions their rapid growth entails.

He told SciDev.Net that European countries, which emit much more carbon dioxide per person than any developing country, should not require such nations to reduce emissions but should be actively helping them by offering clean technologies.

Details of the UK-Chinese research plan have not been finalised, but, according to King, the money could form a fund that scientists researching clean energy could apply to.

King and the Chinese science minister, Xu Guanhua, also launched the China Open Middleware Infrastructure Institute (OMII) in Beijing. Its staff will work with UK-based counterparts to develop software for the next generation of Internet technologies.