As utilities pull back, DOE funds new carbon capture projects

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The U.S. Department of Energy has selected 16 projects aimed at developing advanced post-combustion technologies for capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal–fired power plants. The projects, valued at $41 million over three years, are focused on reducing the energy and cost penalties associated with applying currently available carbon capture technologies to existing and new power plants.  

The selections will focus on developing carbon capture technologies that can achieve at least 90 percent CO2 removal and reduce the added costs at power plants with carbon capture systems to no more than a 35 percent increase in the cost of electricity produced at the plant. The Obama Administration has made a goal of developing cost-effective deployment of carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies within 10 years, with an objective of bringing 5 to 10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016.


Existing CO2 capture technologies are not efficient when considered in the context of large power plants, says the DOE. Current CO2 capture systems require large amounts of energy for their operation, resulting in decreased efficiency and reduced net power output when compared to plants operating without these technologies. The net electricity produced could be significantly reduced - often referred to as parasitic loss - since 20 to 30 percent of the power generated by the plant would have to be used to capture and compress the CO2.

This announcement comes even as the administration has experienced setbacks in promoting carbon capture. Of the six projects from the Clean Coal Power Initiative Round 3, three have been cancelled. American Electric Power announced that it will suspend its plan to build a commercial plant at its Mountaineer facility in West Virginia. "(A)s a regulated utility, it is impossible to gain regulatory approval to recover our share of the costs for validating and deploying the technology without federal requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions already in place. The uncertainty also makes it difficult to attract partners to help fund the industry's share,” said AEP chairman and chief executive Michael G. Morris.

"When we applied for DOE funding to take CCS (carbon capture and storage) to commercial scale, we fully expected that greenhouse gas rules would be in place by now. That hasn't happened. So we are putting the project on hold,” added Pat Hemlepp, AEP's Director of Corporate Media Relations in an e-mail interview.  

Southern Company cancelled its project in Mobile, AL citing similar reasons. 

Meanwhile, Alstom, which participated in AEP's Mountaineer demo project, says that state and federal policy makers must recognize the long-term implications of failing to adopt policies that establish the economic certainty needed to drive development of low carbon energy technologies. In addition, policy makers should fund large scale demonstration projects and allow utilities to recover investments in such projects, which are essential if the industry is to move forward in de-carbonizing electricity in the most cost-effective manner possible.