Much has been made of this technology for extracting the carbon dioxide from the emissions of coal fired electricity generation plants. The basic premise is that the waste gas is circulated through chilled ammonia which “captures” the carbon dioxide which is then pressurized and stored for reuse. The French power company Alstom is the inventor of this process which it claims is less expensive and feasible at utility scale.
Alstom and American Electric Power have agreed to collaborate on a 30MW proof-of-concept that will capture flue gas from AEP’s 1,300MW Mountaineer Plant located near New Haven, West Virginia. The PoC should be complete by late 2008. After the results are evaluated, AEP and Alstom may proceed to two other projects at utility scale with a 200MW capture facility on a 450MW AEP plant in Oklahoma.
Ideas for what to do with all the excess carbon dioxide include using it as a pressurization agent in enhanced oil recovery and storing the gas in stable salt domes (like present natural gas and strategic petroleum reserve facilities.) Other approaches are to use and enhance natural carbon processing ecosystems like plant mass and the ocean to reduce carbon dioxide levels.
As a matter of practicality, these are reasonable steps to take given that 50% of the US electrical power is created by burning coal and reducing the impact of that activity is a very good thing. But, it’s not sufficient, it needs to happen in concert with conservation as well as increasing the non-fossil fuel generation of electricity. As carbon sequestration becomes mandatory, that should help push the price of coal burning generation facilities to levels where renewable generation technologies are more cost effective. That’s just the catalyst needed to start vast change in the way we generate our electric power.