Europe Tests Carbon Capture at Coal-Fired Power Plant

ESBJERG, Denmark, March 15, 2006 (ENS) - The world’s largest pilot plant for the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) from a conventional power station was opened in Denmark today. It is the first installation in the world to capture the CO2 in the flue gases of a coal-fired power station.

The pilot project at the Elsam power station near Esbjerg, will demonstrate new technology for capturing carbon dioxide emissions as they are produced by power stations and then storing the CO2 emissions underground, so they cannot enter the atmosphere and produce the greenhouse effect responsible for global warming.

Elsam plant

Elsam coal-fired power plant at Esbjerg, Denmark is the site of the CASTOR pilot project. (Photo courtesy Elsam)
CASTOR, which stands for CO2 from Capture to Storage, is an European initiative grouping 30 partner industries, research institutes and universities from 11 European countries.

“The European Commission is committed to a low-carbon future, said European Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik, commenting on the inauguration of the new pilot plant at the 420 megawatt Elsam power station.

"By signing the Kyoto Protocol, the EU has committed itself to reducing CO2 emissions," the commissioner said. "However, with projections showing that fossil fuels will continue to provide about 85 percent of our energy for the foreseeable future, it will be difficult to achieve these reductions through switching to other forms of energy, such as renewable solar, wind, wave, biomass or nuclear."

Carbon capture and storage technology is viewed as a bridge from the current fossil fuel-based energy system to one that has near-zero carbon emissions.

"By developing technologies for carbon capture and storage, we can reduce emissions in the medium-term as we move to large scale use of renewable, carbon-free energy source," Potocnik said.

The pilot CO2 capture unit, coordinated by the Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP), will be operated for two years to demonstrate a new technology on a scale large enough to ensure reliable industrial application.

The pilot unit captures most of the CO2 in the flue gases emitted by the coal-fired power station.

The flue gases to be treated are directed to an absorber, where they are mixed with a solvent.

Having more affinity with the CO2 molecules than with the other components of the flue gases, the solvent captures nearly 90 percent of the CO2 in the flue gases.

The CO2-rich solvent is then fed to a regenerator. The device is heated to 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to break the bonds between the CO2 and the solvent. The CO2 is then isolated and transported to its storage place.

The solvent, restored to its initial form as CO2-poor solvent, is reinjected into the absorber with more flue gases to be treated.

The other components of the flue gas are discharged from the absorber with the 10 percent of the CO2 that was not absorbed by the solvent.

The pilot facility will use a system that can be regenerated with a limited quantity of energy, reducing the generation of secondary CO2.


Diagram of the technology used to capture the carbon dioxide in the CASTOR pilot project (Diagram courtesy Elsam)
The pilot installation is intended to capture one metric ton of CO2 per hour.

The cost of conventional processes for CO2 capture in the flue gases of large industrial facilities, already operational in Japan, is estimated at between €50 and €60 per metric ton of CO2.

The Elsam industrial pilot is expected to halve the cost per ton of CO2 avoided, to between €20 and €30.

The total pilot project cost of €16 million is about half funded by the European Commission, with the remainder being funded by private partners.

The CASTOR strategic objective is to enable the capture and geological storage of 10 percent of the CO2 emissions Europe, which corresponds to about 30 percent of the CO2 emitted by European power and industrial plants.

While the plant at Elsam will be the first such pilot, the field of carbon capture and storage is a long-term priority for the European Commission and the sector as a whole.

This pilot plant is an important part of research that will help develop better processes for carbon capture, increase public acceptance of the technology and achieve a major reduction in its costs.

Once captured, the CO2 has to be stored in deep geological formations over long periods that may last several centuries, while ensuring safety.

The main options available for geological storage are in deep aquifers, in depleted oil and gas reservoirs or in coal seams in deposits that have not yet been worked.

The objective is to develop and apply a methodology for the selection and the secure management of storage sites by improving assessment methods, defining acceptance criteria, and developing a strategy for safety-focused, cost-effective site monitoring.

Work on capture technology will absorb 70 percent of the project's budget, and the remaining 30 percent will be spent on the storage of the captured CO2 gas.

The work on storage will provide the European industrial community with four new storage facility case studies representative of the geological variety of existing sites across Europe.

Storage will take place in an abandoned reservoir in the Mediterranean, the Casablanca field, operated by Repsol, Spain.

Storage in a deep saline aquifer will be demonstrated by Snohvit, North Sea, operated by Statoil, Norway.

Storage also will take place in two depleted gas reservoirs - one deep, 2,500 meters down in the North Sea, Netherlands, operated by Gaz de France; and the other closer to the surface and on land, 500 meters down in Austria, operated by Rohoel.

Risk and environmental impact studies will be conducted and methodologies for predicting the future of these sites and for monitoring them will be developed

Potocnik said the European Commission hopes the Elsam demonstration project will allow scientists to improve the technological processes involved in carbon capture, provide a means for better understanding of the process among the public and consolidate Europe’s position as a leader in this scientific field.