Energy Minister Angus Taylor has defended plans to invest potentially billions more taxpayer dollars in carbon capture and storage technology, amid criticism it has failed to live up to its promise.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Regulator will be required to prioritise investment in emerging technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) and soil carbon, over mature technologies like wind and solar as part of the Morrison government's Technology Investment Roadmap.
The government will invest $18 billion in five priority technologies - including clean hydrogen, low carbon steel and aluminium and electricity from storage for firming - over the next decade, in a bid to slash carbon emissions and create jobs as Australia emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The strategy has been panned by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as incoherent, with the sector "uninvestable" due to "random government interventions".
Environmental groups also say carbon capture and storage is risky and unproven at a large scale.
Australian Conservation Foundation climate change program manager Gavan McFadzean said Liberal and Labor governments had spent $1.3 billion on the technology so far with little to show for it.
"CCS still faces huge technological and geological challenges, does not cut emissions to the levels required and is so expensive it can't compete with cheaper and more effective renewable technologies," Mr McFadzean said.
The foundation pointed to the Gorgon gas plant's carbon and capture storage project in Western Australia - the world's largest - which will only sequester around 40 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions once fully operational.
The project had also been beset with problems. Due to technical difficulties, the carbon and capture storage did not operate in 2017 and 2018. Emissions data shows Chevron generated more than 9 million tonnes of CO2 in 2017-18 and 8.9 million in 2018-19.
The Australia Institute's climate and energy director Richie Merzian said the technology had failed, not just in Australia but overseas.
"It's a real concern that carbon capture and storage has made the shortlist," Mr Merzian said.
"The targets set by the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and by local state and federal governments have all failed. CCS doesn't have clean coal and it could potential do us another disservice if we tie it in with future fuels like hydrogen."
Sydney Environment Institute researcher Dr Madeline Taylor said there were only two plants in the world that were able to create "blue" hydrogen - where up to 80 per cent of emissions were offset by carbon capture and storage.
"Carbon capture and storage is an extremely expensive and complex procedure," Dr Taylor said.
Labor's climate change and energy spokesman Mark Butler said carbon capture and storage had "really struggled to be deployed anywhere at scale, even close to being economic".
"We had, when we were last in government, substantial funds to support research and development in carbon capture and storage because scientists, including our own Chief Scientist but international bodies as well, advised that we need that on the table to continue to explore options for decarbonising, particularly in hard to abate sectors like the industrial sector through CCS," Mr Butler told the ABC.
"Ironically it was Tony Abbott that abolished all of the research funds into CCS that John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had put in place. To see some more money put in, I guess, is a welcome admission by them that they made a big mistake six years ago."
Greens leader Adam Bandt described carbon capture and storage as a "unicorn technology that has already had millions of dollars of public money poured into it".
"This is corporate capture and profit as the coal and gas cartels get access to billions of dollars meant for renewables," Mr Bandt said.
However Mr Taylor said carbon capture and storage was "an accepted technology across large swathes of the world".
"There's 58 carbon capture and storage projects in the world - either in development or in operation. Nineteen of them are in operation right now," Mr Taylor said.
"This is a technology that is recommended by the IPCC. By the International Energy Agency. It is part of the plans for the UK, for Europe, for both sides of politics in the United States. Both sides. Biden has said in recent weeks that he will double down on carbon capture and storage and invest in R&D in carbon capture and storage.
"So you know, it is somewhat odd that in this country, it seems where we are a leader in this technology and playing a leadership role, it appears to me that in some quarters at least, it's more controversial than it is almost anywhere in the world."
Mr Taylor also said carbon capture was not the "whole answer".
"It's part of the answer. It requires balance," Mr Taylor said.
The Australian Energy Council said the technology had not been commercially successful as it had been retrofitted to coal-fired power stations.
"We support the development of hydrogen, and the decision to sensibly direct carbon capture and storage's focus to natural gas and hydrogen production, which represent realistic opportunities for this technology," the council said.
"The cheapest new sources of generation are solar and wind, but their variability requires flexible support to ensure system reliability, and that means a role for storage and gas, particularly peaking gas plants."
The National Farmers Federation said plans to direct more investment towards soil carbon was welcome.
"Achieving cost efficient soil carbon measurement is difficult. At the moment farmers almost need to access a grant just to undertake the measurement due to the labour and time intensive core sampling process required under the Emissions Reduction Fund methodology, such is the cost," chief executive Tony Mahar said.
Sydney Institute of Agriculture's Professor Budiman Minasny said soil carbon sequestration was the "most readily feasible carbon-capture technology".
However it was not a "substitute to the development of clean and renewable energy sources needed to achieve lasting carbon reduction in the atmosphere", Professor Minasny said.
Independent MP Zali Steggall said removing solar and wind as a priority would see investments in renewables flatline.
"According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, renewable investment has fallen from $4.12 billion in 2018 to just $549 million this year - well short of what we need to transition away from coal and gas," Ms Steggall said.