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Carbon Capture

August 25, 2010

There has been a great deal of talk about carbon capture. Proponents of cap and trade cite carbon capture and sequestration as the way to cut CO2 emissions without hurting America’s supply of electricity.

Unfortunately most of the talk has been hype – and more importantly, wrong.

Conceptually, carbon capture refers to capturing the CO2 from coal-fired power plants, either before, during or after the coal is burned.

Each of the methods for capturing CO2 have been tried in small, experimental installations – none have been proven to work at a scale that would actually capture significant amounts of CO2.

Equally important, these experiments have demonstrated it would be necessary to derate any coal-fired power plant retrofitted to capture CO2. Retrofitted plants would have to be derated by 30 to 40 percent.

Simply stated, a 1,000 MW power plant would be turned into a 700 MW power plant.

The reason for this is that a third or more of the power from the plant would be used in the processes required for capturing CO2 and compressing it to make it ready for transporting it to where it might be sequestered.

These parasitic loads consume the power that would have been available for transmission to customers.

The Future Gen project in Illinois was supposed to prove the effectiveness of Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plants. An IGCC plant turns the coal at high temperatures into gasses, primarily CO2 and hydrogen. The hydrogen is then burned in a gas turbine while the CO2 is captured and compressed so that it may be sequestered.

The cost of the Future Gen IGCC plant was estimated to be $5,500 per KW, which is more than twice as costly as an ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plant which costs around $2,500 per KW to build.

Future Gen was cancelled due to its high cost at the end of the Bush administration, but was reinstated by the Obama administration.

Ironically, the Obama administration has just changed the project while retaining its name. Instead of building the expensive IGCC plant, the project will now build a coal-fired power plant that will burn pulverized coal in pure oxygen. This is supposed to produce a pure stream of CO2 that can be captured and compressed, and then transported to the site of the original Future Gen project where the CO2 is to be sequestered.

The bottom line is, if all the existing coal fired power plants were retrofitted with carbon capture, it would cut America’s supply of electricity by 30 to 40 percent.

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