Plummeting energy prices have had a devastating impact on the development of alternative and unconventional energy projects, but government support may offer a silver lining. However, the projects, such as solar power, oil sand extraction and refining, deep sea oil production and coal-to-liquid fuel conversion, are expensive to build and operate. Although their potential is huge in terms of the latent energy that can be produced, as a replacement for mainstream fuels such as coal and petroleum, they require oil prices to be at least US$40 a barrel to more than US$80 to be economically viable. According to a CLSA research report, at least 11 companies have announced in the past few months progress delays in 12 oil sand projects, mostly in Canada, because of the decline in oil prices. It also presented challenges for companies such as Growth Enterprise Market-listed Enviro Energy, which is studying the feasibility of injecting waste carbon dioxide from industrial plants into its oil field in Jilin province to enhance oil recovery. The technology could double the recovery rate to 70 per cent from 35 per cent using conventional production methods, said chairman Kenny Chan Wing-him, adding such technology has already been used in North America. However, the need for the price of oil to stay above at least US$60 a barrel to be economically viable is a problem, an industry source said. Analysts said state support from nations such as the United States and China which are eager to enhance energy security, would help cushion the blow from plunging energy prices. 'The alternative fuels sector should find some support from countries' stimulus packages,' said Kim Eng Securities analyst Larry Grace. 'The ringing of the US$147 a barrel bell by crude oil will not have faded too much into the past for governments not to see the need for even marginal attempts at energy independence.'