A pilot project in Scotland has begun testing a method of cutting the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, which Britain hopes will be a leap forward in the fight against climate change.
Doosan Babcock Energy switched on its OxyFuel combustion burner, Britain’s largest demonstration project for carbon capture and storage (CCS), on Friday.
More than 100 people from industry, the media and the regional and national governments were invited to witness the event, just outside the city of Glasgow.
“We will supply this technology as soon as the market allows. We are 100 percent confident the demo will work,” Iain Miller, chief executive of Doosan Babcock Energy, told guests.
CCS captures carbon dioxide from power stations and stores it underground to prevent it from entering the atmosphere. It should help European countries meet their joint target of a 20 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2020 while safeguarding continued operations of coal-to-power industries.
CCS could cut emissions by 90 percent. Several technologies are being tested but none have been proved on a commercial scale yet.
The OxyFuel method burns coal with pure oxygen rather than air, making almost pure carbon dioxide gas and water vapor. This is compressed to trap the carbon dioxide, leaving only residual latent gases to be released into the atmosphere.
Doosan Babcock led the £7.5-million (US$12 million) project, backed by the British government, Scottish and Southern Energy, and sponsors including Drax, EDF, E.ON, ScottishPower and Vattenfall.
Vattenfall has operated a 30-megawatt test facility attached to a power plant in Schwarze Pumpe in Germany since last year.
Relatively small at 17m long, 5.5m wide and 5.5m tall, the 40-megawatt burner will undergo 20 days’ testing until December at a cost of £10,000 a day. If it works, the technology will be fitted to new or existing coal plants to reduce their emissions.
Britain wants to take the lead on the technology to create green jobs and profit from global business potentially worth £2 billion to £4 billion by 2030. It could also make up ground lost to its European neighbors in renewable energy deployment.
“CCS is our priority. The alternatives are far less attractive,” Joan Ruddock, minister of state for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, said at the launch.
Big questions remain over how the technology will be paid for on a commercial scale and how carbon dioxide will be transported and stored. CCS is expected to add about US$1 billion to the cost of a power station.
To speed up the race to prove CCS, the EU this year unveiled a 1.05 billion euro (US$1.5 billion) package to support up to seven large-scale projects or parts of between 10 and 12 schemes.
While welcoming the Doosan Babcock project, Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, said the EU’s goal would be a challenge and demonstration projects required “significant scaling up.”
Britain has done more than any other European country to get CCS off the ground. New coal plants in Britain will have to fit CCS within five years of 2020. The government promised support for up to four 300-to-400 megawatt schemes, with the first operational by 2014.
Experts say the technology can and must be deployed earlier to reap the industrial and environmental benefits.