Cleaning up coal - carbon capture and storage projects

Materials World magazine
25 Nov 2013

Rachel Lawler attends SCI’s A New Age for Coal With Carbon Capture and Storage event in London, UK.

You might not drive a low-emissions car or always remember to take your reusable carrier bags to the supermarket, but in the fight against climate change, fossil fuels are deemed the enemy at large.

It is easy to think of coal as a relic from the industrial revolution, but what if it could clean up its act? Carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects are currently underway across the world attempting to do just that, with positive results. Speakers at the event outlined some of the biggest projects.

Professor Stuart Hazeldine from the University of Edinburgh, UK, pointed to the world’s largest CO2 storage project in Canada. The Weyburn-Midale plant in Saskatchewan is the country’s first functioning CCS project. CO2 captured from the plant is injected into the Weyburn and Midale oil reservoir at a rate of around 5,000 tonnes a day via a 320km pipeline.

Elsewhere, Massimo Malavasi, Director of R&D and Process Technology at Italian firm Itea, talked through his company’s work on flameless oxy-combustion. The company is trialling a full-scale model (5MWt) in Apulia, Italy, which treats coal, as well as biomass, under pressure at a uniform temperature between 1,300–1,500°C. This combusts the material without a flame, producing water, CO2 and ashes. These ashes are melted by the chamber’s controlled temperature, creating a vitreous structure. This prevents the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, reducing the risks associated with flame-based technologies, and allows the plant to make use of low-quality coals.

Back in the UK, Peter Emery, Executive Director at Drax Power, outlined the firm’s plans for a CCS project situated between Leeds and Hull at the existing Drax Power station. The White Rose Carbon Capture and Storage Project is a proposed coal-fired plant using oxy-fuel combustion, burning fuel in a modified environment. This creates gases high in CO2 that are easier to capture and could be piped for permanent storage in rock beds beneath the North Sea. The technology is similar to existing coal plant equipment and less risky than comparable CCS systems. It is hoped that, given the go-ahead by the UK Government and with access to adequate funding, this project could capture two million tonnes of CO2 each year, equivalent to 90% of the plant’s emissions.

The importance of these projects was emphasised by all speakers at the event, as was the fact that power plants hold the key to reducing emissions and that carbon-reducing technology could play a huge part in determining how well green targets are met. Paul Fennel of Imperial College London, UK, said that the cost of electricity in the UK could rise by 210% by 2050 without the use of CCS.

Jeff Chapman, CEO at Carbon Capture and Storage Association, UK said, ‘Everybody is focused on renewables targets in the UK and it’s distracting us from CCS’. While it might seem counter-intuitive to plough resources into coal-based technologies, CCS could make coal a valid part of the UK’s future energy plan, leaving its role as the Victorian’s dirty fuel of choice in the past.

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