"Clean" coal-fired power plants that bury greenhouse gases will be up and running in five to ten years but will be money-losers unless governments impose tougher policies for fighting global warming, experts have claimed.
A breakthrough to enable power generators to capture and entomb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas widely blamed for heating the planet, would be a giant technological leap towards a return to King Coal.
But in this year's pre-Budget report Gordon Brown failed to pledge financial support for the technology, opting instead for a joint feasibility study with Norway which will not report until July 2007.
"Carbon capture could be demonstrated technically viable within five to ten years but there's still no commercial incentives," said Harry Audus, general manager of the International Energy Agency greenhouse gas research and development programme.
"So it's up to the politicians to get the commercial incentives in place."
The IEA advises governments in developed nations on energy policy.
A 2005 UN report said that filtering out greenhouse gases and piping them into deep underground stores could meet 15-55 per cent of the world's likely need to curb greenhouse gases by 2100 - making storage perhaps the single biggest contributor.
Among projects, the United States plans a "clean coal" plant by 2012 that would bury heat-trapping carbon dioxide.
Other "carbon coffin" pilot projects are under way in the European Union and nations including Norway, Australia and China.
"Predicting a year for commercial coal generation projects is extremely difficult," said Bert Metz, a Dutch co-chairman of the UN report into carbon capture and storage.
He said carbon storage would only be attractive for power generators if carbon prices were stable.