Focus on Technology
2:00 pm
Wed October 2, 2013

CCS aims to clean-up coal-fired emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency is working to finalize a plan that would essentially ban coal-fire power plants in their present form. New ones could not be built without having cutting-edge technology that dramatically reduces CO2. It's called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). The proposal, announced last month, by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy at the National Press Club, is not expected to be a requirement for more than a year.

Fifteen-hundred miles apart, crews are building what will become the two cleanest coal-fired plants in North America. In Saskatchewan Province, Canada, Boundary Dam is doing a retro-fit to its existing plant and in Mississippi the Kemper County Energy Facility, is brand new and will go on-line in May.

How does Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) work?

In this video, James Verdon of Physics World explains it in less than 100 seconds.

  1. A scrubbing process captures the CO2 and mixes it with a solution
  2. That solution absorbs the exhaust gasses
  3. The solution is later reused
  4. The CO2 is compressed and put in a pipeline
  5. It is transported and stored underground

Howard Herzog is a senior research engineer with MIT’s Energy Initiative and has been studying the best strategies to scale CCS up. He says no commercial power plant in the world is doing carbon capture and sequestration as part of their normal business operations. He says CCS  amounts to government supported demonstrations in Norway, Algeria, Germany and Japan.

Attorney Jeff Holmstead, a former EPA official under President George W. Bush, represents energy companies. He says the EPA’s new proposal is premature by as much as 10 years because the technology is not adequately demonstrated. And Holmstead says the EPA’s estimate of installing the new technology would increase the cost of a new plant by 60-80 percent.

The cost may come down eventually. The University of Kentucky just received a 3-million dollar federal grant to figure out a way to cut the costs of capturing and storing carbon dioxide.