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At Copenhagen, the US should partner with India

India's melting Himalayan glaciers are a sign of India's booming coal industry, but a technology partnership with the US would be high-impact and low-carbon.

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Underground coal gasification projects are not without challenges, as any advanced power technology must provide significant expansion of electricity generation, be cost competitive, and help improve reliability. Development of underground coal gasification projects requires both commercial sector and government collaboration to focus on key areas, such as project coinvestment, technical issues, and environmental standards.

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Today, underground coal gasification projects are under way in China and Australia, with plans for projects in India, the US, and South Africa; only cross-border collaboration, however, will help the development of underground coal gasification and diffusion accelerate in order to contribute to a world with less carbon.

A long-term solution for India, though, would be to leverage its technology and engineering-focused pockets of talent from technological universities and government-funded research centers to transform India into the world's laboratory for cutting-edge research, development, and demonstration – or R,D&D.

This model, while recognizing that coal is vital to meet India's energy demands for the foreseeable future, provides it with a diversified portfolio that will help India affordably manage its carbon emissions as its economy expands.

Developed nations such as the US should partner with India in this effort. The US could commercialize its new technology more rapidly in the booming Indian marketplace, as well as access lower-cost technology developed by Indian inventors. And American companies, research groups, and universities could provide India with the components it needs – mainly, an industry that wants to develop lower-cost clean energy options, innovative technologies, and sophisticated multilateral funds.

India's energy needs, growing economy, and the melting Himalayas put the country in a difficult situation. Multilateral negotiations, such as those at Copenhagen this week, can only go so far – and move only so fast. India and the US could develop a true partnership based on critical, mutual needs and benefit both in the long term.

India and the US have what they need right there in front of them – it's just a matter of reaching out and grabbing it.

Kurt Waltzer is the carbon storage development coordinator, of the Coal Transition Project, at the Clean Air Task Force. P.R. Shukla is a professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. Semil Shah is a principal at India Strategy Consulting.