GE pours billions more into plans to help environment

CO2 is used for some fracking but is a high-cost option. Photo / AP
CO2 is used for some fracking but is a high-cost option. Photo / AP

US industrial conglomerate General Electric says it will boost spending on environmentally friendly energy research by US$10 billion ($12 billion) by 2020, including on fracking technologies and wind turbines.

The new investment extends and builds on a research and development programme launched in 2005 aimed at finding technologies that reduce costs and environmental impacts for GE's customers and its own operations, the company said.

GE said the investment will support research in alternative technologies to replace water in hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and improve wind turbine and power plant efficiencies.

The programme, "ecomagination", has already generated more than US$160 billion in revenue, and reduced GE's greenhouse gas emissions and freshwater use, said the company, whose wide portfolio of products includes aircraft engines, power plants, geospatial systems and household appliances.

GE has invested US$12 billion to date of its US$15 billion commitment on the R&D programme through 2015.

Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and chief executive, said the now US$25 billion programme was one of the conglomerate's most successful cross-company business initiatives.

"Bold investments in ecomagination research and development have resulted in strong returns for shareholders and improved cost and emissions savings for our customers," Immelt said.

GE announced two new R&D projects in the natural gas sector, where fracking - the use of pressurised liquids to create fissures in rocks to release gas and oil - has significantly raised production as well as environmental concerns.

GE said it had teamed up with Norwegian oil giant Statoil to look into whether carbon dioxide would be suitable for large-scale use as an alternative to water, potentially reducing the large amounts of water needed for fracking.

CO2 is used for some fracking but is a high-cost option.

"The goal of GE and Statoil's new research collaboration is to evaluate whether a system can be designed to capture CO2 produced from emissions, reuse the CO2 to fracture rock formations and then capture it again for re-use on the next well," the Connecticut-based company said.

In the second project, GE is working with Canadian company Ferus to capture natural gas that operators flare off from new oil and gas wells.

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