Carbon capture technology moves a step closer

Thursday, 29 March, 2012

This week, CSIRO will release its latest findings to the government on carbon dioxide capture technology, following a four-year $21 million research program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Australian coal-fired power stations.

The report will confirm that post-combustion carbon dioxide capture (PCC) technology operates effectively under Australian conditions and is now technically available to the industry as the first stage in the carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) chain.

Australia still heavily relies on its low-cost and easy-to-mine coal reserves, with coal currently providing some 80% of the country’s electricity, 17% of export income and about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. This breakthrough means that technology can be introduced to the sector to reduce its contribution to carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

The program, funded through the Asia-Pacific Partnership (APP) on Clean Development and Climate and supported by a grant from the Department of Resource, Energy and Tourism (DRET), enabled two PCC plants to be successfully established and operated at existing Australian power stations - at Delta Electricity’s Munmorah power station in NSW and at Stanwell Corp’s Tarong power station in Queensland.

Demonstration plants have been set up in other countries but PCC has never been used at full scale and integrated with a coal-fired power plant. This was an opportunity to gain vital practical experience in Australia ahead of large-scale implementation.

The results showed that the PCC technology was able to capture more than 85% of carbon dioxide from the power station flue gases along with other gases such as sulfur dioxide; can be fitted to both new and existing power stations; has flexible application according to changing consumer demand in the electricity market; and can use renewable energy such as solar thermal as a power source.

The main challenges to implementation of PCC are the costs from additional capital investment and loss of efficiency at the power station - currently the capture of 90% of carbon dioxide would result in a 30% loss in power station efficiency.

But according to CSIRO’s Dr Paul Feron: “While the cost imperative is important, once the technology is established, the costs of installing and operating a PCC system will fall substantially.”

CSIRO is continuing development of PCC with the aim of capturing all emissions with no energy penalty or loss of efficiency at Australian power stations.

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