In part 1 of our 2-part series on clean coal, we discussed the history of, and the methods behind, various clean coal technologies, and we noted some of the earliest demonstration projects and reported on how they fared.
The other area of concern when considering clean carbon technologies is carbon dioxide, and pressure to reduce it is growing. The Kyoto protocol called for actual reductions in CO2 emissions; the state of California is working on a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases, and the Obama administration is pushing hard for a carbon cap-and-trade system.
Since coal is essentially carbon with added ingredients there is no way to escape the fact that burning it creates carbon dioxide. The problem is how to get rid of the stuff. Suggested methods of CCS — carbon capture and sequestration (AKA carbon capture and storage) — include geologic, oceanic and mineral.
Geologic CCS methods include pumping the CO2 into exhausted oil or gas fields, saline formations or unminable coal seams. Oceanic methods would include pumping into the bottoms of oceans directly — probably not a good idea — and ocean fertilization, using iron, urea, etc., which would, it’s hoped, enhance biological capture of atmospheric CO2. Mineral methods are still experimental.
Baard Energy’s Ohio River project also may send some of its carbon dioxide to a nearby oil field to be injected into the earth for enhanced oil recovery.
The biggest CSS experiment was probably the FutureGen project, which would have combined IGCC, H2 production and CCS, producing 275 MWe of power and capturing and sequestering 1 million tons of CO2 per year. It was started in 2006, supposed to be operational by 2012, and cancelled at the beginning of 2008.
There is a possibility that FutureGen will be revived. The project was to be built in Illinois, and with many in the new administration from that state there is renewed interest, the Washington Post reported on March 6. The article also noted that the economic stimulus act contains a provision for $3.4 billion to be allocated for Fossil Energy Research and Development that likely would be used to provide the public portion of the funding for the project, which was originally planned as a public-private partnership.
A Bright Future?
With the exception of CSS, clean coal technology looks to have a bright future. There are no insurmountable technical barriers, and the United States does have an abundance of coal. That leaves CSS.
The major problem with CCS is that it’s expensive. According to the IPCC special report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage, adding CSS to a coal-fired power plant would increase fuel consumption by 25%-40% just to provide the energy required to compress and transport the CO2. On March 3 James Rogers, Executive Chairman, CEO and president of Duke Energy, said on The Kudlow Report on CNBC that CSS will not be available for 15 years. And, says Harold Schobert, Ph.D., professor of fuel science at Penn State, “I believe that CCS, while again already workable on a small scale, needs one heck of a good idea, the proverbial game-changer, to something else that will tackle the scale of what we have to deal with.”
Yet some projects seem to be moving ahead. Duke Energy is hoping to use some of the $3.4 billion stimulus money to aid in construction of a 630 MW IGCC power plant in Edwardsport, IN, for which it received permission from the state’s Utility Regulatory Commission in 2007. Duke was already planning to use some $1 million from the DoE’s Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership Program to study carbon sequestration, and hopes evenutally to be able to pump up to 40% of the plant’s CO2 into the ground. This would be on top of the fact that the plant is expected to emit 45% less CO2 per MWh than the facility it would replace, simply because of better efficiency.
And in 2008 American Electric Power’s Appalachian Power operating unit received authority from the Public Service Commission of West Virginia (WV PSC) to build a 629-MW IGCC plant in that state. The previous year the company had announced an agreement with Alstom for post-combustion carbon capture technology using its chilled ammonia process; carbon capture is expected to begin on a pilot scale later this year.
The Obama administration might provide the game changer Schobert is looking for: a sufficiently strict cap-and-trade program (which is, in the last analysis, a carbon tax) might make it cheaper to go with CSS than to buy the carbon offsets. On the other hand, a recent story by Associated Press writer Dina Cappiello that appeared in PD&D reported that the House had given up on CSS and buying carbon offsets for the small coal-fired plant that heats and cools the U.S. Capitol, citing costs, and would not convert it to burn natural gas. Now Congress has a long history of exempting itself from laws the rest of us have to live by, but it’s not a good sign. And as the president’s programs run into increasing opposition we may find the biggest barriers to CSS are political.