Capturing Carbon on the Cheap

by | May 31, 2013

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Some of the processes being looked at as cheaper ways of capturing carbon dioxide emissions include a government-led large-scale implementation at a power plant, a installation at a natural gas production facility and rolling out the technology to other industrial facilities, according to an article in the MIT Technology Review.

Despite the US’ growth in renewable energy use, electricity generation from coal is expected to grow twice as much as generation from electricity by 2020. But without carbon capture technology many coal plants would fail to meet strict regulations and face closure.  However, no one currently knows how much large-scale carbon capture will cost and finding out will cost billions of dollars, MIT Technology Review reports.

One method being investigated as a workaround to find cheaper ways to capture carbon is for government to demonstrate its effectiveness on a large scale. The FutureGen project was originally planned as a new kind of hydrogen and electricity producing power plant. It was canned by the Bush administration due to high costs, but it was reinstated in a form that costs half as much after the Recovery Act. The project is now focused on retrofitting an existing power plant, but, given design and permit challenges, it may still not be ready to take advantage of Recovery Act funding, the article says.

A natural gas production facility in Norway has been using carbon capture technology for years and emulating it could provide another way forward, the article says. Utilizing such technology at a natural gas production facility can be more efficient as such facilities produce a far more concentrated stream of CO2 than power plants.

Capturing carbon at industrial facilities may be the only way to deal with emissions from such sources as ethanol and steel plants, the article says.  Two projects that capture carbon from fermentation at an ethanol plant and another that captures it from a hydrogen plant production plant are now online. This kind of industrial site carbon capture could account for about half of captured CO2 by 2050, the article says.

There is also a market for selling captured CO2 to oil recovery projects, such as a Department of Energy demonstration project in Texas that went online earlier this month. This adds an income stream to the process of CO2 capture and, once used by the oil recoverers, the gas is trapped underground in a capped well.

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