West Coast Scientists Begin Work on Cheaper Carbon Capture Process

by Erica Peterson on August 26, 2011

Right now, many can’t agree on the value of carbon capture and sequestration–the process by which carbon dioxide is removed from power plant emissions and sequestered underground. Some say it’s the future of coal burning power plants–as more environmental regulations are enacted restricting emissions, carbon capture is one way to lessen the environmental footprint of burning coal. Others say the energy-intensive process actually does more damage to the environment than conventional power plants, because it takes more coal to run a plant.

Regardless, everyone agrees on one thing: right now, carbon capture and sequestration is too expensive to be feasible on a large scale (unless, of course, someday there’s a price on carbon dioxide). Last month, American Electric Power’s carbon capture pilot project at its Mountaineer Power Plant in West Virginia¬†was cancelled because it was deemed too expensive.

But according to a news release, Battelle researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory were just awarded a $2 million federal grant to study a cheaper way to remove the carbon dioxide. They estimate their process could be 50 percent cheaper than the current technology. They say the system uses a lot less power:

During the three year project, Battelle scientists will work with the Fluor Corporation and Queens University to evaluate the advanced carbon dioxide capture system, called Polarity Swing Assisted Regeneration, or PSAR. Developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which is operated for DOE by Battelle, the PSAR process uses organic liquids to capture and separate out the carbon dioxide from flue gas at a much lower temperature than the process currently used in coal-fired power plants. That process, called thermal swing regeneration, requires significant power to heat, boil and cool harsh chemical sorbents in a series of steps to remove the CO2from the flue gas.

Much less power is required to complete the PSAR process.

“A key distinction of PSAR is that the process makes efficient use of heat from the power plant rather than using valuable steam, to operate the carbon dioxide capture process, saving power producers energy and money,” said David Heldebrant, Battelle senior research scientist. “This not only improves the efficiency of the overall process but also simplifies the use of this process as a retrofit to an existing pulverized coal power plant.”

The process uses organic liquids to pull carbon dioxide out of the flue gas. Work will begin on the project this fall.

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