One Step Forward, Two Steps Back for CCS Projects

Last December, as Spain’s national carbon capture and storage (CCS) research laboratory Fundación Ciudad de la Energía (CIUDEN) began a much-watched testing phase of oxycombustion in its 30-MWth circulating fluidized bed (CFB) boiler in Cubillos del Sil, Vattenfall scrapped the €1.5 billion ($2 billion) Jänschwalde CCS demonstration project that it had planned to build and begin operating by 2015 in the German federal state of Brandenburg.

CIUDEN’s two-month-long project at its Technology Development Centre for CO2 Capture (es.CO2) first began using gas in its Foster Wheeler–provided CFB boiler and later, indigenous, low-reactivity anthracite coal. The operation has now switched to oxy-combustion—using oxygen rather than air (Figure 4). The process, which the center says could “reach CO2 concentrations in flue gas [of] around 60% instead of 15% as in conventional combustion,” is expected to be complete within the first half of 2012, which would be marked by startup of the CO2 purification and compression system. As part of the next phase, the center will finalize integration of the set of units involved in CO2 capture and prepare them for CO2 transport and storage.

4. A commercial demonstration. The Compostilla OXYCFB300 Project, one of six similar projects funded by the European Union’s European Energy Programme for Recovery, is a carbon capture and storage commercial demonstration project at ENDESA’s Compostilla Power Station in northwest Spain. The circulating fluidized bed supercritical oxy-combustion plant will be scaled up to demonstration size at 300 MW if initial phases are successful. Courtesy: CIUDEN

CIUDEN CCS developers said their project is a “world first” for a carbon capture plant that uses oxy-combustion, burning coal in a CFB at such a scale, and “with the main aim of obtaining the design parameters of commercial power generation facilities at a larger size.”

Spain’s government efforts to develop CCS technologies also include development of a CO2 Geological Storage Plant currently under construction in Hontomín, in the Burgos region, which is expected to be operational in 2013.

Support for CCS seems flat across much of the remainder of the European Union (EU), where members are scrambling to meet ambitious targets to slash greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020 and 80% to 95% below 1990 levels by 2050. Recent European Commission and International Energy Agency reports project increased coal consumption—which they say is necessary for energy security—and have urged more state support for CCS.

Meanwhile, Vattenfall said it was forced to cancel the Jänschwalde demonstration plant and blamed “insufficient will in German federal politics.” The company cited lack of progress on a CCS draft bill by Germany’s lower house, saying that “a clear legal framework is needed and that the existing draft for the CCS law is, without substantial improvement, insufficient for multi-billion investments in further development of this technology.”

The Jänschwalde project would have investigated both oxyfuel and postcombustion carbon capture technologies, outfitting two 250-MW boilers at the existing lignite-fired 3,000-MWe Jänschwalde power plant with a 250-MW oxyfuel boiler and a postcombustion capture unit. The demonstration was expected to capture 1.7 million metric tons per year of CO2 at a rate of well over 90%. The effort was slated to be a scale-up of Vattenfall’s 30-MWth pilot plant at Schwarze Pumpe—the world’s first oxyfuel pilot plant—and had received €180 million ($235 million) from the EU’s European Energy Program of Recovery.

The company is expected to continue development of CCS at the UK’s largest CCS pilot plant at Ferrybridge Power Station in West Yorkshire, which opened on Nov. 30, however. Vattenfall will also continue test operation of the CCS pilot plant at Schwarze Pumpe in Germany and work for the development of a European CO2 storage infrastructure.

The high-profile Jänschwalde project was one of several cancelled in 2011. Earlier in the year, as Basin Electric announced that the cost and timing of a proposed CCS project at its Antelope Valley Station in North Dakota had caused the plant’s directors to table the project indefinitely, German utility RWE halted work on an integrated gasification combined cycle plant with CCS in Hürth, citing a lack of an “adequate legal basis and promotion of acceptance of the CCS technology by policy makers.”

In October, the UK pulled funding for a postcombustion CCS project being built at the 2,400-MW Longannet power station in Fife, Scotland, by ScottishPower, UK grid operator National Grid, and oil company Shell. And in July, American Electric Power shelved its $668 million CCS project at its 1,300-MW Mountaineer Plant in New Haven, W.Va.—a project that had just completed validation—citing uncertain U.S. climate policy and a weak economy. Even the U.S. Department of Energy’s FutureGen 2.0 oxy-combustion project now hangs in limbo after Ameren Energy Resources in November pulled out of the venture spearheaded by the FutureGen Alliance. The alliance is negotiating an option to buy portions of Ameren’s Meredosia Energy Center in Illinois to continue development of that project.

—Sonal Patel is POWER’s senior writer.