World's First Really Clean Coal Plant Gets a Try-Out in Germany

By Eliza Strickland | September 5, 2008 5:07 pm

coal lumpsNext week, German officials will flip the switch and turn on the world’s first coal-fired power plant to use carbon capture and storage technology, in which carbon dioxide is stripped out the plant’s emissions and pumped deep underground. This “clean coal” technology has been hailed as a possible way to get cheap energy without further contributing to global warming. The 30 megawatt Schwarze Pumpe power station, built and operated by Swedish power company Vattenfall, will produce power along with 10 tons of highly concentrated CO2 an hour. The CO2 will be loaded onto tankers and taken to a nearby gas field for sequestration [Earth2Tech].

The new Vattenfall plant is a relatively small pilot project intended to test the viability of carbon capture and storage; these technologies have yet to be deployed in full-scale commercial plants, which typically generate hundreds of megawatts of power. The technologies are currently expensive, partly because capturing and compressing carbon dioxide into liquid requires a good amount of energy. Critics also have questioned their effectiveness in keeping emissions sealed underground [GreenTech Media]. For all these reasons, some experts have wondered whether clean coal plants are a realistic option for large-scale energy production.

In the $100 million Vattenfall plant, the coal is burned in an oxyfuel boiler in the presence of pure oxygen, which results in very pure form of carbon dioxide that can easily be compressed and stored. In the United States, companies are pursuing a different approach to clean coal, using a system called integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) that converts coal into a cleaner-burning gas before combustion. There are currently four IGCC plants in operation in the U.S. and Europe that could produce concentrated CO2 streams suitable for capture and storage, but these plants currently vent the emissions into the atmosphere [Earth2Tech].

There are several other demonstration plants on the drawing boards in Europe, and Vattenfall has pledged to work up to full-scale commercial power plant that uses carbon sequestration technology within 12 years. “As a user of fossil fuels, Vattenfall is one of the owners of the climate change issue,” said Lars Josefsson, the president and CEO in a statement. “Our ambition is that this technique should become fully commercialized by 2020″ [Scientific American].

Image: Los Alamos National Laboratory

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • Robot

    For those who are concerned with Global Warming and say that the United States must cut down on its energy usage perhaps they need to do a bit of research with regards to the supply of coal in the United States and the newly developed clean coal technologies out there now available. 250 Years Supply of Coal and Clean Coal Technologies; What does it all mean for America?

  • Eddisionklein

    Carbon capture and storage technology, in which carbon dioxide is stripped out the plant’s emissions and pumped deep underground. This “clean coal” technology has been hailed as a possible way to get cheap energy without further contributing to global warming.

  • Christopher Yaun

    EARTH MATTERS – it was once thought that the forests, the oceans and the atmoshpere were so vast, so bountiful that humans could harvest them forever and never see the end.

    In 1998 a financial crisis began in Thailand and swept the world markets. At that time there were 1 billion consumers. Today there are 3 billion consumers and almost 4 billion more that still have never made a phone call and live without electricity.

    When I was born in 1956 the world population was nearing 3 billion. 52 years later the world population is almost 7 billion and may reach 9 billion before I die. It is not possible for 3 billion people to consume resources at the rate that Americans consume resources.

    There is no such thing as clean coal. Electricity is clean only because we pretend that there is no connection between the polution, destruction of the environment, machines of war and social injustice required to protect distant supplies.

    Environmental degradation, peak oil/coal, energy security and social justice are all current issues that must be addressed by robust public discussion. Discover would do its readers a great service by dedicating many issues to educating us about the real possibilites for a new energy future that are available to us today with current technologies.

    I think the people of the world will make much smarter choices when we are properly informed and educated about the true cost of our lifestyle. We will make better decisions about our energy choices and continue to prosper.


  • James Phy

    How much is an individual willing to pay for a kilo watt/hour of electricity? Do you even know what you now pay? i pay $.078 cents. i consider electricity to be a necessity and not a commodity nor luxury! How much of a burden is society willing to place on those who make $7, $8, $9 an hour for the right to use electricity?

  • Everett Williams

    Mr. Phy,

    How much are people willing to pay for the wars and starvation and just plain impossible circumstances that will occur if global warming proceeds to the ends that are predicted. The problem is that the costs come out of different pockets. Those same people who only make a bit will go out and buy a large pickup, SUV, or large sedan, even though they know that the vehicle will cost them a ton to drive. But, they are comfortable with that type of vehicle…better the burdens we choose than those imposed on us by conditions…not really. I think that anybody who cares can know what electricity is costing them, and what gasoline is costing them. The problem is that people really only care that life be what they are used to. It takes leadership and education to overcome that inertia. In reality, there is no static world anywhere, and the places where things are most static are the sources of the greatest problems on the planet. The planet itself moves and changes under us…there is no solid Earth, but we want there to be. Again, we must educate people to understand that the only thing that is constant is change. If they learn that from birth, they will then be able to move more quickly and with less pain into the future.

    Our nation itself was part of one of the greatest changes of all times, the Reformation and the industrial revolution that followed it. And yet, now, we want to stop things right there where we gained the ascendancy. The rest of the world will not allow that, and we are not powerful enough to hold them off forever. We can either grow and change and educate ourselves in the way that the rest of the world is or we can lose out. After all, they are really only following what they perceive as our example.,,and they are hungrier than we are.


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