Carbon capture in Saskatchewan

2008-03-29

in Canada, Economics, Science, The environment

A $1.4 billion carbon capture (CCS) equipped coal plant is on the drawing board in Saskatchewan. The projected output is 100 megawatts (MW). That works out to a price of $14,000 a kilowatt, compared with about $2000 and $4600 per kilowatt for wind turbines (according to Agriculture and Rural Development Alberta). Of course, unlike the coal plant, the wind turbines wouldn’t require fuel after being installed.

Unless the cost of CCS falls dramatically, it is never going to be able to ride in, horse at a gallop and sword drawn, to rescue the coal sector. The cancelled FutureGen project in the United States was one demonstration of this. Until there is at least one unsubsidized commercial facility out there that is producing electricity from coal and sequestering emmisions – all for less than the price of ‘expensive’ renewable technologies like wind and solar – a fair bit of skepticism about the technology is justified.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

. March 31, 2008 at 10:25 am

Is Burying Carbon in the Ground the Answer to the Woes of Coal?

New Scientist magazine recently provided a good overview of CCS technology. It quotes a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study called The Future of Coal, which concludes that, “the first commercial CCS plant won’t be on stream until 2030 at the earliest.”

Oil-giant Shell “doesn’t foresee CCS being in widespread use until 2050.”

If it’s going to take 30 years before we figure out how to capture carbon from coal effectively, wouldn’t it make sense to move our energy generation away from coal to renewable source like wind and solar? After all, the world’s best scientific organizations have all concluded that we have much less than 30 years to significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gas we are pumping into the atmosphere.

. March 31, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Can coal live up to its clean promise?
* 27 March 2008

“Geologists don’t dismiss the possibility of a catastrophic release, after an earthquake perhaps. But they see slow seepage as at least as important a concern. To prevent climate change, CO2 has to be stored safely for millennia. Even a leakage rate of 0.01 per cent a year – a suggested industry standard – would see almost two-thirds of the gas gone within 10,000 years. The legal question of who has long-term responsibility for stored carbon is also unresolved, and it could prove as convoluted a debate as that over nuclear waste. No surprise then, that next to designing a capture plant, assessing the leakage threat is the major research focus for CCS…

So far, tests have been small-scale, short-term and largely at sites that geologists judge will perform best. In the real world, Hovorka points out, geologists will be under pressure to find burial sites close to power plants, where the rock formations may be less than perfect. “We know how to recognise an excellent site,” she says. “But we need confidence about when to screen out sites that are too risky.” She also admits there is no method yet for deciding how much CO2 a particular rock formation can absorb before leaking, and how to spot if things are going wrong. A study in the journal Advances in Water Research warns that algorithms modelling the seepage of gas through rock are untested, so the results could prove inaccurate…

The necessary capital investment will be huge, as will the cost of operating any CCS system. The US government reckons CCS will increase the cost of coal-fired power generation by 75 per cent. For this to be commercially viable, it has been calculated that a price tag of more than ¬30 per tonne will need to be imposed on CO2 emissions, either via a carbon tax or through a continuation of the emissions trading system introduced under the Kyoto protocol.

So exactly what would this hugely costly undertaking achieve? One EU document on CCS says beguilingly: “The possibility exists for a CO2-free energy system based on fossil fuels.” Yet even the best CCS systems will not capture all the CO2, and existing methods typically capture only about 85 per cent. In reality the figures are even more unfavourable, as the CCS process itself consumes anything from 10 to 40 per cent of the energy produced by a fossil-fuel power station.

Another factor to be taken into account is the energy used by diggers, trucks and trains to extract coal and transport it to the power station. In all, this may take up to a quarter of the energy the coal produces at the power plant, and none of these emissions disappears when CCS kit is bolted on.”

. March 31, 2008 at 3:01 pm
. April 1, 2008 at 1:36 pm

Sequestration is running late and short of funds

Industry experts urged Congress on Monday to help fund carbon capture and sequestration projects, saying that without government support, the technology may not develop fast enough to meet ambitious targets set in the Lieberman-Warner global warming bill.

Calling it unrealistic for utilities, shareholders and consumers to “step up” and pay the price of curbing carbon dioxide and other unregulated greenhouse gases, Craig Hansen, a vice president for the energy technology firm Babcock & Wilcox, said yesterday that the industry needed Congress to offset the extra cost of building coal-fired power plants capable of capturing and storing carbon dioxide. In other words, the most direct path to carbon neutrality may be through the U.S. Treasury.

“There is a gap between where the legislation is and where we can go,” said Hansen during a briefing yesterday sponsored by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “There are virtually no orders for new plants. To have meaningful acceleration … would require $800 million for the next 10 years to cover those costs.”

The Lieberman-Warner bill would cap U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 by nearly 70 percent below 2005 levels — a mandate that the coal industry says will not be achievable without CCS technology. And while the legislation includes $500 million for investment in clean technologies, U.S. EPA modeling of the bill’s effects on the energy sector concluded that coal plants lacking carbon capture and storage capabilities would no longer be built in the United States.

Rising costs also prompted the Energy Department to drop out of a $1.5 billion partnership with industry to build the first near zero-emissions coal-fired plant in Illinois.

‘No business case’ for capturing CO2

Experts at the hearing, which included electricity generators, energy technology firms and representatives of European regulatory agencies, said carbon capture and sequestration would not be ready on a commercial scale until 2020 or later.

The United Kingdom expects its first demonstration project to come online in 2014, and that is with the government paying 100 percent of the capital and operating costs.

“There is no business case for carbon capture and sequestration,” said Stephen Kaufman, chair of the Integrated CO2 Network, a consortium of 18 Canadian companies.

The National Mining Association and United Mine Workers of America on Monday also renewed calls to Congress for more funding of CCS projects. The two groups support the creation of a “Carbon Capture and Storage Early Development Fund” that would raise $1 billion a year through a modest fee on fossil-fuel electricity generation.

“Unfortunately, inadequate incentives exist to spur the development and early deployment of CCS technologies in the power generation sector,” reads a letter the groups sent yesterday to Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.). “And the lack of a reliable, substantial and sustained source of funding from the federal government, in partnership with industry, exacerbates the problem.”

. April 2, 2008 at 10:25 am

Australia to begin carbon capture
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Australia’s first underground carbon storage facility has opened in the southern state of Victoria.

The geo-sequestration plant, the only one in the Southern hemisphere, will capture CO2 from a power station and store it 2km below the surface.

. April 6, 2008 at 1:09 pm

TransAlta and Alstom sign carbon capture deal
Aim to graft new technology onto existing coal-fired power plant in bid to reduce emissions by a million tonnes a year

NORVAL SCOTT

April 4, 2008

CALGARY — TransAlta Corp. has struck a deal with French power firm Alstom SA to look at bolting new carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies onto an existing coal-fired power plant in Alberta, a technique that holds the promise of substantially reducing emissions from Canada’s current energy infrastructure.

. April 6, 2008 at 1:09 pm

“Calgary-based TransAlta won’t actually start testing the Alstom technology – which involves cooling emissions through an ammonium carbonate solution before injecting them into the ground – until 2012. If the technique is successful, however, the company could reduce its emissions from one coal power plant by one million tonnes a year, the company said.”

. April 11, 2008 at 3:52 pm

Doubts grow about schemes to ‘bury’ greenhouse gases

LONDON — Governments and the private sector are balking at the expense of kick-starting a technology to bury planet-warming gases underground, casting doubts on “clean coal” plans seen as vital to help fight climate change.

(The Province; 20080411)

. April 14, 2008 at 5:12 pm

Best Post Ever?
By Eric de Place

Given that coal and oil companies aren’t run by idiots, it’s clear that they’re not going to make arguments of the form “we shouldn’t act to ward off preventable environmental disaster because that would be bad for our shareholders and executives.” Instead, polluting energy firms are going to ride on to the scene as apostles of class warfare, condemning carbon pricing, congestion fees, energy efficiency mandates, and everything else under the sun as an undue burden on the poor.

As readers know, I think that argument is often factual off-base. But at other times it has some real truth to it. If you make energy more expensive to use, this will inconvenience everyone to some extent, but it’ll be much less of a problem for more prosperous people. But what this analysis leaves out is that the price of inaction will also fall hardest on people of modest means. If changing weather patterns make food more expensive, then burden falls hardest on the poor. If natural disasters destroy people’s homes, then it’ll be hardest for the poor to rebuild. If water shortages lead to scarcity and black markets, it’s the rich who’ll be able to get what they need. This is the general virtue of having a lot of money — it can be exchanged for tangible items of value. Consequently, the downside impact of any widespread change will be hardest on those who have little of it. But that’s not a reason to never change our policies if the status quo is going to lead to even worse outcomes. You’re not ultimately doing the poor any good by condemning them to live in a world of climate catastrophe.

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