Beneath the gargantuan grey boiler towers of Schwarze Pumpe power station which pierce the skies of northern Germany, a Lilliputian puzzle of metal boxes and shining canisters is about to mark a moment of industrial history. This mini power plant is a pilot project for carbon capture and storage (CCS) – the first coal-fired plant in the world ready to capture and store its own CO2 emissions. Next week the pilot – an oxyfuel boiler – will be formally commissioned.
A cloud of pure oxygen will be breathed into the boiler. The flame will be lit. Then a cloud of powdered lignite will be injected. The outcome will be heat, water vapour, impurities, nine tonnes of CO2 an hour, and a landmark in clean technology.
The CO2 will then be separated, squashed to one 500th of its original volume and squeezed into a cylinder ready to be transported to a gas field and forced 1,000m below the surface into porous rock where it should stay until long after mankind has stopped worrying about climate change.
The plant operators, Vattenfall, have worked furiously for two years to get the pilot running. They funded the 70m-euro project themselves because they wanted to lead a technology they believe solves the conundrum of providing energy security through plentiful coal supplies whilst avoiding the CO2 emissions blamed for climate change…
A little bit of time-wasting in the article, interviewing people with political views on the project and no interest in the science and economics.
We’ll know in a year or so whether progress towards a demonstration plant is justified – followed by realistic numbers on costs vs. benefits.