October 31, 2009

US Coal Plant Considers French Carbon Capture Solution

The world's largest carbon capture facility at a coal factory was introduced Friday by French firm Alstom, AFP reported.

Backers of the new technology hope the invention will spark a new multi-billion dollar industry in profitable markets like China, India and others.

Assuming that coal power plants will endure legal and financial pressure to lessen emissions as part of world efforts to reduce global warming, the pilot facility catches and contains around 20 megawatts of carbon dioxide from West Virginia's Mountaineer plant.

Since the unit can handle only a portion of Mountaineer's 1,300 megawatt capacity, the remaining captured carbon dioxide is buried 7,200 feet underground. 

But if carbon taxes are enforced as part of eventual climate change legislation, the same technology could be enhanced and applied to any modern coal plant, reducing emissions and cutting costs for plant owners.

"Mountaineer is the first example of carbon capture that you can feel and touch. It works," said the head of Alstom's power division, Philippe Joubert.

"What we are able to prove now, for the people who want to hear, is that the technology is here, there is no longer any doubt," Joubert said.

The power plant's owner, American Electric Power, explained how carbon dioxide emissions are blocked from penetrating the atmosphere, liquefied and pumped at a rate of 5.5. metric tons per hour into an aquifer underground.

By 2015, Alstom intends to have an operating full-scale commercial carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility.

"There is no reason why a coal plant would be without CCS," said Joubert, adding that the major emerging markets of India and China, both large-scale coal users, would be one of the firm's target markets.

"We know that we are going to double the number of (power) plants in the world from now until 2030, mostly from coal and most of this growth will be in Asia," he said.

Local officials in coal mine-rich West Virginia hope the technology will preserve jobs in an industry believed to be a key factor in global warming.

"Coal is going to be needed for the transition to fuel the future," said West Virginia governor Joe Manchin at a Mountaineer ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"That is not going to come soon, but it will come eventually, maybe 30-plus years from now, as we do that we have to have a responsibility to do it better."

Opponents believe the technology prolongs the life of an industry that is responsible for more of the "greenhouse gas" emissions that add to global warming than any other fuels and is grossly disruptive to regions where coal is mined.

Additionally, critics argue it will deplete funding for energy conservation programs or research into renewable fuels.

Jim Kotcon of the West Virginia chapter of The Sierra Club, an environmental pressure group, said the group does not oppose carbon capture, but believes it is necessary to "assure that it is done safely and is properly monitored."

The Sierra Club urged developers to consider the potential effects of pollution to local water and possible seismic activity if West Virginian aquifers are filled with liquid carbon dioxide. 


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