Nation's largest coal-burning utility will capture carbon at two plants
Mar 15, 2007
One of the nation's largest power producers announced plans today to install carbon-capture technologies on coal-fired power plants in West Virginia and Oklahoma.
American Electric Power of Columbus, Ohio, said it would add post-combustion carbon dioxide scrubbers that use chilled ammonia to remove CO2 from flue gases. Tests of the technology will begin this summer at a small power plant in Wisconsin.
"With Congress expected to take action on greenhouse gas issues in climate legislation, it's time to advance this technology for commercial use," said AEP Chairman Michael Morris in a statement.
AEP also said it had reached agreement with Babcock & Wilcox Co. to assess the effectiveness of "oxy-coal" technology at snaring CO2. If it works, the technology would be used at another AEP plant between 2012 and 2015.
Morris is expected to provide further details of AEP's plans at the Morgan Stanley Global Electricity & Energy Conference today in New York.
AEP's announcement comes the day after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a report saying coal could continue as a viable energy source so long as government and industry work to widely deploy carbon capture and storage technologies (Greenwire, March 14).
The announcement garnered favorable reviews from both industry lobbyists and environmental groups who have been pushing coal-fired utilities to act aggressively to reduce greenhouse gases like CO2.
"We think it's very significant," said Jim Owen, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute. "I think everyone recognizes that carbon capture and storage is a critical piece of the long-term climate change equation. It's a needed piece of technology that we're going to have to have available and deployable to get to much deeper reductions in CO2 emissions."
Owen said AEP's announcement will likely spur similar action from other major coal-fired utilities, which until now have been slow to embrace CO2 controls, particularly for existing plants. "One of the most important things about what AEP is doing is it keeps coal in the fuel mix," he said. "That's really the bottom line."
Scott Segal, a Washington attorney and senior lobbyist for coal-fired utilities, said AEP's announcement demonstrates that deployment of new carbon-capture technology is "the key to responsible carbon policy." But he warned, "Government policy cannot be based on purely hypothetical applications when there is still serious work to be done on capture and sequestration."
And Emily Figdor of the advocacy group U.S. Public Interest Research Group said AEP's announcement was "very encouraging." But she said that to effectively address global warming, such technologies would need to be added to all existing coal plants. "If we can do it," she said.
Carbon capture technology
AEP said it will install the carbon capture system -- designed by Alstom Power Systems of Knoxville, Tenn. -- on a 30-megawatt test unit at its 1,300-megawatt Mountaineer Plant in New Haven, W.Va. The company expects to trap and store up to 100,000 metric tons of CO2 per year there. Carbon storage will occur in deep saline aquifers on the plant site, the company said.
Alstom said it has demonstrated the potential to capture over 90 percent of CO2 using its chilled ammonia approach at lower cost than other carbon-capture technologies. The technology should be applicable to both new and existing plants through retrofitting, officials said.
Bob Hilton, Alstom's director of business development, said the chilled ammonia carbon capture process has been under development for about three years, and that its first commercial test will begin this summer on a 5-megawatt slipstream unit at a Wisconsin power plant.
If the West Virginia validation test goes well, a second application is planned for AEP's Northeastern Station in Oologah, Okla., on a 450-megawatt coal-fired unit. The company hopes the technology will be commercially viable at the Oklahoma power plant by late 2011.
The Alstom-designed system isolates CO2 by chilling flue gases in the combustion cycle, recovering large volumes of water which can be recycled. Once isolated, the CO2 is collected on an absorber much like that used in systems that reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, officials said.
In a release, Babcock & Wilcox's parent company, McDermott International Inc., said its oxy-coal combustion process, once fully developed, "is expected to result in near-zero emissions from coal-fired electric-generating facilities."
Oxy-coal combustion uses pure oxygen for the coal combustion, and nitrogen that comes in with the air is eliminated, according to McDermott. The resulting flue gas "is a relatively pure stream of CO2 that is ready for capture and sequestration or alternative uses such as enhanced oil recovery," the company said.
Morris said AEP's 100-year track record of innovation in power generation "makes us very comfortable with taking action on carbon emissions and accelerating advancement of the technology."
Senior reporter Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this report