Can Carbon Capture Technology Save America's Coal Power?
September 26, 2013
One might add "unproven
EPA released new rules "that would set the first national limits on heat-trapping carbon pollution from existing power plants," writes The Christian Science Monitor
Many have speculated that the rules seem designed to eliminate coal-fired power plants. As WSJ noted, "The only way coal plants could comply is to capture carbon-dioxide emissions and stick them underground -- a costly process that hasn't been demonstrated at commercial scale before." Technology that sounds great in theory, but has been tested only at a few sites
Leaving aside the question of whether this was a move by the Obama Administration for the express purpose of scuttling the coal industry in America in the name of global warming, the question is whether the technology in question can work on the level it would need to.Carbon Capture And Storage.
"It's called carbon capture and storage
Gardner quotes Lisa Camooso Miller of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity as saying that while the technology is being used, it's "still not a technology that is in full deployment at a commercial scale."
Something will have to be done, however, if the new rules stick. Science InsiderGrab It, Store It, Bury It.
The idea behind carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is to essentially grab the CO2 at the source of emission, store it, and go bury it. The carbon dioxide is separated from other gases, compressed and purified, and transported.
A post-combustion system. With this approach, the flue gas produced by combustion of the fuel with air "only contains a small fraction of CO2," which is captured "by injecting the flue gases in a liquid that selectively absorbs the CO2 (such as a cooled or compressed organic solvent)." At this point you're left with "nearly pure CO2" which you can then separate out. "Similar separation processes are already used on a large scale to remove CO2 from natural gas."
A pre-combustion system. This is used when the primary fuel "is first converted into gas by heating it with steam and air or oxygen," resulting in a conversion which "produces a gas containing mainly hydrogen and CO2, which can be quite easily separated out."
Oxyfuel combustion. This uses pure oxygen, not air, to burn the fuel, since air only contains 20 percent of oxygen and "a lot of nitrogen." It's pretty hard to separate oxygen from the air, but it results in "a gas mixture containing mainly water vapour and CO2." The water vapour is taken out of the CO2 by cooling and compressing the gas stream.
Industry observer Damian Carrington
Of the pre-combustion system, Carrington notes that the "advantage here is that the energy penalty -- the power used for separating out the CO2 - is much lower, perhaps just 11 percent and has no thermodynamic minimum, unlike post-combustion CCS. The downside is that it cannot be retrofitted." If you're building a new plant it's a good choice, however.
Carrington points out that oxyfuel combustion "can only be used in new plants and an air-separation unit has to be built to provide the oxygen." In other words, it's expensive, too.Statoil Tried It.
Proponents of CCS say that the Norwegian state energy company, Statoil, has used the technology to capture CO2 on its natural gas wells in the North Sea. Its incentive to do so -- the technology isn't cheap -- is that Norway taxes carbon emissions.
But Statoil recently canceled the flagship CSS project. The Wall Street Journal
There are some promising projects in operation, however. Industry journal PlantEngineer
The project will capture carbon dioxide from the flue gas of "major emitters, such as power stations," and possibly bury it "in exhausted oil and gas reservoirs or saline aquifers." It's a relatively large capture process, using "an amine-based solvent to absorb up to 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide per day."
The way PlantEngineer describes it, Spirax Sarco's steam system "is used to re-boil and regenerate the CO2 saturated solvent, for reuse, by stripping the carbon dioxide out under controlled high-temperature and pressure conditions."Carbon Into Bricks? Maybe.
One of the more intriguing technologies for dealing with captured carbon, which could be a far sight more useful than simply burying it, is turning the captured carbon into bricks, which can then be used to build homes and buildings.
It might all be a moot point anyway, at least as far as coal is concerned. Science Insider writes that "the power industry is turning to natural gas for generating electricity, suggesting that the market for building coal-fired power plants with carbon capture equipment could be decades off."
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