February 2, 2012

The Energy Collective

For two reasons, 2012 will be a milestone for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies, marking the beginning of its practical utilization.

In December, the next step of the ongoing international climate change talks will be hosted by Qatar, which, with Saudi Arabia, has long pushed to have CCS included among approved technologies for carbon reduction under the European Union cap and trade scheme. (CCS can be used to make electricity cleaner, not only from coal, but also from heavy petroleum residues.) At last year’s talks, they finally succeeded, with more details to be hammered out in December.

image via Shutterstock

And secondly: the very first U.S. power purchase contract was just signed for coal power with CSS from a coal plant. It will also sell the carbon dioxide. (Perhaps this kind of CCS should be called Carbon Capture, Sequestration and Sale (CCSS) because one way to make CCS more cost effective is not merely store the carbon dioxide, but to sell it.)

CPS Energy of San Antonio signed a deal to buy the coal power from the 400-megawatt (MW) Texas Clean Energy Project in Midland-Odessa, that will have only 10 percent of the CO2 emissions of other coal-powered plants, because it will capture carbon dioxide in an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant. This kind of plant runs on a gas squeezed out of coal, instead of burning it, and can separate the CO2, along with other pollutants in the process.

Most of the captured carbon dioxide—83 percent of nearly 2.9 million metric tons each year—will be pumped into the nearby West Texas Permian Basin oil field to ease out the last of the oil. CO2 can be sold to oil drillers for this purpose. The remainder will be sold to manufacture urea, also a valuable industrial material.

The project received $450 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fossil Energy Division, as well as $211 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for a total government investment of $661 million toward the cost of building a $2.4 billion plant (see Government To Fund Carbon Capture Projects).

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