Thursday, April 23, 2009

UK Government announce clean coal is the way forward

With Carbon Capture being given the go-ahead today by the UK government and new clean coal being the way in which the government wishes to go with their need to meet the UK’s energy needs, have they made the right choice?

The government has stated that this carbon capture will cut the CO2 emissions from the new power plants the government has proposed to build by 90%.
Whilst the method of carbon capture has been proved to work, it has not been carried out on anything of this scale. The system was almost implemented in Scotland in the Miller field and was ended prematurely due to the government’s slow reaction to the proposition by BP.

Schemes already in action
Norway's StatoilHydro has already used this system at Sleipner since 1996. This site has stored about one million tonnes of CO2 a year, and the Snøhvit gas field in the Barents Sea stores 700,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.
The Weyburn-Midale CO2 Project started in 2000, Weyburn is located on an oil reservoir discovered in 1954 in Weyburn, southeastern, Saskatchewan, Canada.
There is also another scheme in In Salah, Algeria .

Not only does the system allow clean coal, the carbon dioxide can be used, before it is pumped below the ground into empty oil fields, to extract extra oil than is normally not taken from the oil fields.


  1. This project has been portrayed by many as the magic solution to clean power generation. Although it may prove to be so, I think that all sides of such a scheme need to be examined. In my opinion, there are a number of questions that need to be answered. Some of my questions are technical, some purely selfish.

    One issue is the release of all the CO2 in a reservoir in one event - although probably extremely unlikely, the release of millions of tonnes of CO2 in one event would undoubtedly be catastrophic to anyone or anything in the area at that time. What would the consequences be? What could be done to stop that happening, however unlikely it is?

    Another problem may be that the intersticial water in any reservoir rock may become highly acidic after so much exposure to CO2. What consequences would this have for the reservoir itself which often has a significant component of limestone? Would this open the pore spaces in the reservoir allowing more CO2 to be injected, or lead to a colapse of the matrix reducing its storage capacity? Would it weaken the cap rock and allow it to become permeable? I dont pretend to understand reservoir mechanics, although I think the questions need to be answered in detail before large scale injection commences.

    Then finally there is the infrastructure required to maintain such an operation. Agreed that much of the infrastructure is there already (ie the Miller platform and associated pipelines) but the cost of modifying it will surely be huge, and maintaining aging, pre-existing infrastructure is already expensive. This would surely not be "cost neutral" to the price of electricity generated from such power stations?

  2. You raise very valid points, I myself do not profess to being an expert on the matter. I will do my best to address the points you have raised.

    Whilst in the event of a sudden release all that would be released into the atmosphere was what would have been released without the system. Whilst it would prove catastrophic to organisms at the location as these locations are beneath the sea. I would assume from the organisms that are directly in contact whether many others would affected. I would assume as the gas would be released in a sudden outbreak as you suggest then the gas would rise as a bubble and break on the surface with little actually diffusing into the water, at least initially. I believe this would mean not too many organisms would be affected.

    As to the fact that many resevoirs are significantly made of limestone I would agree with you, I thought that CO2 only becomes acidic when it reacts with water and I would guess that if there was no water for the CO2 to mix with, or very little at the least then this would not be a huge factor. I also do not understand resevoir mechanics and if anyone did I hope they will clarify this.

    Some modification would be necessary for these systems to be replaced but the government didnt announce it was simply modifying existing coal plants, but rather that it was going to build new ones from scratch, as the current sites are already nearing the end of their operational life. This would save having to modify a large percentage of the infrastructure. As to the modification of rigs for this purpose, it actually makes the rigs more viable and extends their operation life. It was estimated that by using the CO2 that would eventually be captured, to pump out oil in the resevoir it would be possible recover an addition forty million barrels of oil. This would in effect double the life of the platform. Whilst maintaining pre-existing infrastructure at the oil fields is expensive, the profits that could be made from selling the extra oil should mean that the companies are at least cost neutral if not somewhat in profit. It could be agreed with the government that in repayment for carrying out this enteprise, that some taxes could be dropped or altered to help the oil companies turn out a profit.

    I realise there are problems, questions and doubts with this system, but no choice in this time is the right one. The alternative nuclear is being moved ahead aswell, despite the fact that the facilities for the nuclear waste has not been set up yet.

  3. New carbon capture technology is being tested for the first time in the UK on a working coal-fired power station.

    A 30-tonne test unit will process 1,000 cubic metres of exhaust gas per hour from Longannet power station in Fife.

    Carbon dioxide will be removed using chemicals and turned into a liquid, ready for storage underground.

    Energy company ScottishPower wants to test technology which could lead to a full scale carbon capture plant becoming operational by 2014.

    The UK government recently gave the go-ahead for a new generation of coal-fired power stations provided they were able to limit their CO2 emissions.
    How carbon capture works

    The scientists have focussed on the post-combustion method of carbon capture and storage (CCS) which aims to trap greenhouse emissions after fossil fuels have been burnt.

    The plant, developed by Aker Clean Carbon, will enable them to assess the effectiveness of chemicals, known as amines, at removing CO2.

    Researchers from the University of Edinburgh will join the project, testing three different types of amine solution over the next three months.

    We believe that the UK can lead the world with CCS technology, creating new skills, jobs and opportunities for growth
    Ignacio Galan
    Chairman, Iberdrola

    ScottishPower chief executive Nick Horler said: "This is the first time that CCS technology has been switched on and working at an operational coal-fired power station in the UK.

    "It's a major step forward in delivering the reality of carbon-free fossil fuel electricity generation."

    ScottishPower's parent company Iberdrola said the UK would be its global centre of excellence for CCS development, bringing together academics, industry experts and engineers.

    A professorship of CCS will be based at Edinburgh University, but other academic institutions will also be involved including Imperial College, London.

    Iberdrola Chairman Ignacio Galan said: "We believe that the UK can lead the world with CCS technology, creating new skills, jobs and opportunities for growth.

    "There is the potential to create an industry on the same scale as North Sea Oil, and we will invest in Scotland and the UK to help to realise this potential."

    The Longannet power station opened in 1969 and is the second largest in the UK.

    The station chimney is 183m tall, the second highest free-standing structure in Scotland.

    [BBC News]