In Germany, Vattenfall is in the process of constructing a 30 megawatt (MW) ‘clean coal’ power plant. The plant will separate pure oxygen from air, burn coal in it, then ship the resulting CO2 to an injection facility 150 miles away by truck. The liquified CO2 will then be injected 3,000 metres underground in a depleted gas field.
The best thing about this project is that it will provide some real data about the feasibility and costs of carbon capture and storage (CCS). A 30 megawatt plant is a pipsqueak compared to the 500 and 1,000 MW coal facilities that are operating and planned. Nonetheless, this smaller plant should provide some useful information about timelines and cost structures. It will also establish how much of the total energy produced by the plant will be needed to produce the oxygen stream, as well as liquify, transport, and bury the CO2.
Too often, governments and industry groups blithely assert that they will sequester 10% or 20% or 50% of emissions by year X. At present, that is a bit like the Wright Brothers describing the economics of a major airline. It is only with the successful deployment of pilot plants that we will discover if ‘clean coal’ is actually a viable low-carbon source of energy or (as I suspect) a high-cost distraction from superior alternative approaches focused on renewables, efficiency, and conservation.