Vattenfall’s Jänschwalde Demo Is Latest in String of CCS Projects Shelved

Vattenfall last week scrapped a much-awaited €1.5 billion ($2 billion) carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration project it planned to build and begin operating by 2015 in the German federal state of Brandenburg, blaming “insufficient will in German federal politics.”

A CCS draft bill was rejected by the Bundestag (or lower house) on September 23, and a mediation committee was formed to review the bill. But it adjourned twice in November “without result,” Vattenfall said in a statement.

"We must unfortunately accept that there is currently insufficient will in German federal politics to implement the European directive so that a CCS demonstration project in Germany could be possible,” said Tuomo Hatakka, head of business division production and Vattenfall’s country manager for Germany. “This is a harsh setback for innovation, climate change and the German economy,” he added.

Vattenfall emphasized 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.” Nevertheless, the company said it will continue development of CCS, including at the UK’s largest CCS pilot plant at Ferrybridge Power Station in West Yorkshire, which opened on Nov. 30. Vattenfall will also continue the test operation of the CCS pilot plant at Schwarze Pumpe in Germany and work for the development of a European carbon dioxide storage infrastructure.

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 carbon dioxide at a rate of well over 90%.

The effort was slated to be a scale-up of Vattenfall’s 30-MW thermal pilot plant at Schwarze Pumpe—the world’s first oxyfuel pilot plant—and had received €180 million from the European Union’s European Energy Program of Recovery.

Vattenfall’s cancellation of the plant is just the latest in a string of high-profile CCS plants that have been scrapped in the past year. 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. 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. Just a year ago, Basin Electric announced that the cost and timing of a proposed CCS project at the Antelope Valley Station had caused the plant’s directors to table the project indefinitely.

Even the Department of Energy’s FutureGen 2.0 oxycombustion 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.

Vattenfall’s pullback on the Jänschwalde project echoes German utility RWE’s decision earlier this year to halt engineering activities and defer implementation of 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.”

“The Carbon Storage Law (KSpG) passed by the German federal cabinet in April 2011, which is to enable the construction of demonstration plants in principle, unfortunately considerably tightens the existing CCS Directive of the EU,” RWE said on its website. “Shifting the decision on carbon storage from the federal government to the states (‘Länder veto clause’) as provided for by the law makes CO2 storage seem impossible for RWE in Germany.”

RWE said that without a CO2 storage facility, the route for the pipeline could not be planned. “Without the pipeline and storage facility, on the other hand, the construction of a power plant designed for CCS is neither viable nor sensible from the perspective of climate protection. Thus, RWE has to defer the first steps necessary to implement the IGCC project in Hürth and until further notice has discontinued the power plant project.”

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the cancellation or deferment of these projects poses little setback to the development of CCS technology. A database that the academic institution curates shows that several large-scale projects (of over 60 MW) are still on track to become operational between 2014 and 2020.

Sources: POWERnews, Vattenfall, RWE, MIT