Plant Barry to Pilot Fuel Cell Carbon Capture from Coal and Gas Generation

FuelCell Energy and ExxonMobil will test a novel fuel cell carbon capture technology at a Southern Co. 2.7-GW coal- and gas-fired power plant in Alabama, the companies said on October 27.

The technology under development by the companies uses carbonate fuel cells to concentrate and capture carbon dioxide streams from power plants. A pilot plant planned at the James M. Barry Electric Generating Station, which is operated by Southern Co. subsidiary Alabama Power, will demonstrate carbon capture from natural gas–fired power generation as well as from coal-fired power generation.

After two years of laboratory tests that demonstrated the integration of carbonate fuel cells and natural gas power generation, ExxonMobil and FuelCell Energy announced an agreement to pursue the novel technology this May. The agreement originally sought to spend one to two years on increasing efficiency in separating and concentrating carbon dioxide from the exhaust of natural gas–fueled power turbines, and depending on reaching several milestones, the companies then planned to comprehensively test for another one to two years in a small-scale pilot project prior to integration at a larger-scale pilot facility.

In October 2015, meanwhile, FuelCell Energy announced definitive agreements with the U.S. Department of Energy to install a 2.3-MW fuel cell power plant configured for carbon capture adjacent to an operating coal-fired plant as the first of two phases. The second phase, which will follow this project, will involve installing 11 additional fuel cell power plants (a total 27.6 MW) to capture about 700 tons per day of carbon dioxide, while simultaneously generating 648 MWh per day.

The technology essentially entails directing a coal or gas power plant’s exhaust to a FuelCell Energy DFC3000 carbonate fuel cell to replace the ambient air that is normally used in combination with natural gas during the fuel cell power generation process. As the fuel cell generates power, the carbon dioxide is efficiently separated, and it becomes more concentrated. This allows it to be more easily and affordably captured from the cell’s exhaust and stored, said FuelCell Energy and ExxonMobil in a joint statement. Following capture, the carbon dioxide will be compressed and cooled utilizing standard chilling equipment.

FuelCell Energy CEO Chip Bottone lauded carbon capture with carbonate fuel cells as a potential “game-changer in affordably reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants globally.” Bottone also said that a fuel cells and carbon capture configuration may have the added benefit of eliminating about 70% of nitrogen oxides generated by combustion processes in large-scale coal and gas power plants.

Installation of the fuel cell pilot plant at Plant Barry will begin after the companies complete engineering studies.

Results from the natural gas pilot test are expected to help guide engineering studies for potential construction of a standalone pilot plant to test the technology at a larger scale, under FuelCell Energy’s existing agreement with ExxonMobil.


Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)