One of the world’s first coal-fired power plants equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is set to start up in Germany next week. The 30 MW Schwarze Pumpe power station, built and operated by Swedish power company Vattenfall, will produce power along with 10 tons of highly concentrated CO2 an hour. The CO2 will be loaded onto tankers and taken to a nearby gas field for sequestration.
The €70 million ($101 million) pilot plant could prove to be a wise investment for the power company if the technology works. Vattenfall could then license the technology to other energy developers looking to cash in on cheap coal without the polluting emissions. The plant uses a special oxyfuel boiler that burns washed lignite, a low-grade coal, in the presence of pure oxygen, resulting in very clean combustion. The flue gas is then cleaned, cooled and compressed to a liquid state, which can be loaded on to tankers or piped underground.
This technology is different from the integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology being pursued stateside, where dirty coal is actually turned into a cleaner-burning gas before combustion. There are currently four IGCC plants in operation in the U.S. and Europe that could produce concentrated CO2 streams suitable for capture and storage, but these plants currently vent the emissions into the atmosphere. Finding safe and economically viable places to store carbon is still one of the biggest hurdles in the CCS process.
While this news is some of the most solid evidence that carbon capture and sequestration might eventually become a reality for clean coal advocates, it is a mere pittance in energy terms. At 30 megawatts, the plant won’t provide regulators or investors with a clear understanding of how much it would cost to scale the technology. Vattenfall is working toward a commercial scale plant, which it says will cost up to €1 billion and generate 250 megawatts of clean, coal-fired power. But that one won’t be ready until 2020, just after all the arctic ice melts.
Graphic courtesy of Vattenfall.