The Solution to Climate Change

By most accounts, capturing and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) from a commercial-scale power plant is a risky undertaking due to the cost, liability and questions about the process.

But carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology remains the most important technological solution to climate change, a claim bolstered by two new CCS projects announced last month and two ongoing CCS projects that will be placed online later this year.

After many setbacks and regulatory obstacles, CCS projects in North America appear to be making progress once again thanks to several demonstration projects and power producers who recognize the value of CCS technology in a carbon-constrained world.

 NRG Energy, the largest independent power producer in the U.S., said last month it will add a CCS system to an existing coal-fired plant near Houston, Texas, where it will capture 90 percent of the CO2. The $1 billion project will be the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture project, NRG said. It will capture about 1.4 million tons of CO2 annually, which will be used to boost oil production from a nearby oil field – a process known as enhanced oil recovery.

The project stems from the research gathered during a three-year pilot project at Southern Co.’s Plant Barry, which successfully captured more than 150,000 tons of CO2 each year. The same technology deployed at Plant Barry will be used by NRG. The process was jointly developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kansai Electric Power.

On a much smaller scale, Kentucky Utilities announced plans to install a carbon capture system at the company’s E.W. Brown Generating Station near Harrodsburg, Kentucky. The $19.5 million project is being funded largely with $14.5 million in financial assistance from the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. Others involved in the research and implementation of the project include the Electric Power Research Institute, the University of Kentucky, the Carbon Management Research Group, Duke Energy and Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas.

What’s more, CCS projects at Southern Co.’s Kemper power plant in Mississippi and SaskPower’s Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan will be up and running later this year. These two commercial-scale projects will demonstrate how technology can turn coal-fired generation into the most effective tool to combat climate change. 

Thanks to projects like these, the cost of CCS will come down and the technical challenges will be overcome.

The truth is most of the scientific community supports CCS as a critical tool for reducing CO2 emissions from power plants. Without CCS, the cost of greenhouse gas reduction would skyrocket, said Julio Friedmann Deputy Assistant Secretary for Clean Coal in the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy.

“If you take CCS off the table, the cost of abatement goes up 50 to 80 percent,” Friedmann said during a forum earlier this year.

Gareth Lloyd, general manager of corporate affairs at the Global CCS Institute, said during a press conference last year the world will still be getting more than half of its energy from fossil fuels in 2060, which means “CCS is not an optional technology if we’re to address climate change.”

According to the institute, the 21 large-scale CCS projects under construction or in operation around the world can capture up to 40 million tons of CO2 annually, which is tantamount to removing 8 million cars from the road each year.

For now, gas-fired power plants in the U.S. are not required to capture any of their carbon emissions. Coal-fired power plants emit almost twice as much CO2 than natural gas-fired plants and cannot comply with new CO2 emission standards without building an expensive CCS system. But CCS will eventually be required for gas-fired generation because gas-fired plants, which produce 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, remain a significant source of CO2 emissions in the U.S.  

“We will be doing this for natural gas plants,” Friedmann said.

Meanwhile, the federal government is providing billions of dollars to the developers of CCS projects. In addition to $6 billion targeted for CCS in the 2009 Recovery Act, the DOE has funded several demonstration projects and is providing up to $8 billion in loan guarantees for CCS projects. Peter Davidson, executive director of DOE’s Loan Program Office, will share more details about the DOE’s $8 billion solicitation during the keynote session at COAL-GEN 2014, Aug. 20-22 in Nashville, Tennessee.

If you have a question or a comment, contact me at Follow me on Twitter @RussellRay1.


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