Germany’s largest electricity producer, RWE Power, last week said efforts to test a new technology for separating carbon dioxide from flue gas in a pilot plant at its Niederaussem power station had resulted in a “breakthrough.” The technology, which captures carbon dioxide by means of unnamed chemical solvents, could reduce energy input by 20%, RWE and project partners BASF and the Linde Group claim.

“The new solvents also feature clearly superior oxygen stability, which reduces solvent consumption significantly,” the partners said, though the solvents were not specified.

The three companies started up the pilot plant at the 3,864-MW lignite-fired power plant near Cologne in August 2009 as part of RWE’s Coal Innovation Center. BASF is testing the newly developed carbon capture process based on improved solvents in the course of this cooperation announced in 2007. Linde was responsible for pilot plant engineering and construction.

The 40-meter-tall pilot plant’s dimensions correspond to a future commercial plant and comprise all individual components of large plants. According to RWE, depending on the set test parameters, up to 300 kilograms of carbon dioxide per hour can be separated from a flue gas bypass—which corresponds to a capture rate of 90%.

“The pilot CO2 scrubbing plant is being built by Linde at the 1,000-MW BoA 1 lignite-fired unit, which, with a net efficiency of over 43%, is the most modern and most efficient lignite-fired unit worldwide,” RWE said on its website. “It is equipped with optimized plant technology and is the forerunner to the two power plant units BoA 2&3 being built at the Neurath site. In Niederaussem, the carbon capture technology to be developed can thus be adapted to this type of power plant in an ideal manner.”

A demonstration phase, during which an industrial-scale plant is to be built, is planned immediately after the pilot phase is completed successfully. “Our goal is to make carbon capture technology utilizable for the retrofit of existing modern plants or new power plants by 2015,” RWE said.

“By enhancing efficiency and accordingly reducing costs, we have created a critical success factor for carbon capture technology, which in our view is key to climate-compatible power generation from coal,” said Dr. Johannes Heithoff, vice president for research and development at RWE Power.

RWE Power said it invested €9 million on development of the project. It has also received about €4 million from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology.

Sources: RWE, BASF, Linde Group, POWERnews