Carbon capture gets positive report

A report released last week has found the capture of carbon, a key factor in ambitious plans to clean up the use of brown coal, operates effectively in Australian conditions.

In news that was welcomed by Latrobe City Council, the $21 million four-year Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation research project into post-combustion carbon dioxide capture (PCC), found the technology required to capture carbon was now “technically available to the industry”.

It also found PCC technology had “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 technology, tested largely through existing New South Wales and Queensland power plants on a small scale, proved successful and could precede large scale implementation, according to PCC program leader Dr Paul Feron.

Latrobe City Mayor Ed Vermeulen welcomed CSIRO indications that, although large-scale application of Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage (CCS), of which PCC (the capture) was only part, was still years away, evidence continued to point to its viability.

“To me this comes as no surprise, to see that the extensive research done by CSIRO concerns the advantages of CCS,” Councillor Vermeulen said.

“It certainly puts coal in a very positive light.

“As I have always said, coal is not the problem, carbon is and I am very optimistic this research will vindicate that and move it forward.

“I am confident it (CCS) can be done.”

In February the Federal Government announced $100 million in state and federal funding for Victoria’s first CCS program, ‘CarbonNet’.

Dr Feron told The Express he hoped CarbonNet proponents would draw on the CSIRO’s most recent findings.

Its cost remains a major hurdle with CCS, which includes carbon’s initial capture followed by its transport and storage.

Although recent results showed PCC technology was able to capture more than 85 per cent of CO2 from power station flue gases, along with other gases including sulphur dioxide, and could be fitted to new and existing power stations, Dr Feron estimated the process would cost “in terms of units, around the $100 per tonne mark”, currently.

While the anticipated cost of implementing CCS had created debate between governments and generators about who would bear that cost, Dr Feron said he was confident continued research could overcome prohibitive costs.

Recently completed, the research gave the CSIRO “a good insight into what makes it (CCS) so expensive so we have come up with ideas about how to make the technology cheaper,” he said.

He spoke about process improvements and the use of liquid absorbents to remove CO2 with a new range of more effective chemicals.

The chemicals “might not be commercially available now” but the CSIRO had “developed a synthesis procedure” to make them, which had been patented, he added.

The more recent insights into how solvents work was “world-leading”, Dr Feron said.

They will be tested in existing plants over the next four years with the aim of achieving cost reductions.

Determining how to remove CO2 and sulphur dioxide in the flue gas in “one single step” would “cut the capital costs tremendously”, Dr Feron said.

That work is expected to happen at a Loy Yang Power-based pilot plant.

The loss of efficiency at power stations using PCC also needs to be addressed, with Dr Feron saying “currently the capture of 90 per cent of carbon dioxide would result in a 30 per cent loss in power station efficiency.”

He was confident, however, that once the technology had been established, “the cost of installing and operating a PCC system will fall substantially”.