Eyeing lucrative markets in China, India and beyond, French firm Alstom on Oct. 30 unveiled the world's largest carbon capture facility at a coal plant -- a technology backers hope will fuel a new multi-billion dollar industry and keep the coal industry alive.
Banking that coal power plants will come under legal and financial pressure to reduce emissions as part of efforts to reduce global warming, the pilot facility captures and stores around 20 megawatts of carbon dioxide from West Virginia's Mountaineer plant.
The unit can handle only a fraction of Mountaineer's 1,300 megawatt capacity, burying the captured carbon dioxide 7200 feet underground. But Alstom says the same technology could be scaled up and attached to any modern coal plant, limiting emissions and, if carbon taxes are introduced as part of eventual climate change legislation, saving the plant's owners money.
"Mountaineer is the first example of carbon capture that you can feel and touch. It works," said the head of Alstom's power division, Philippe Joubert. "What we are able to prove now, for the people who want to hear, is that the technology is here, there is no longer any doubt," Joubert said.
The power plant's owner, American Electric Power, says carbon dioxide emissions are blocked from entering the atmosphere, liquefied and pumped into an underground aquifer at a rate of 5.5. metric tons per hour.
Alstom aims to have a full-scale commercial carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility operational by 2015.
"There is no reason why a coal plant would be without CCS," said Joubert, adding that the major emerging markets of India and China, both significant coal users, would be one of the firm's target markets. "We know that we are going to double the number of (power) plants in the world from now until 2030, mostly from coal and most of this growth will be in Asia," he said.
Critics say the technology simply extends the life of an industry that produces more of the so-called "greenhouse gas" emissions that contribute to global warming than other fuels and causes large-scale environmental damage to areas where the coal is mined. They also argue it will drain funding for energy conservation projects or research into renewable fuels.
The Sierra Club, an environmental pressure group, said it was not opposed to carbon capture, but, according to the of West Virginia chapter's Jim Kotcon, there is a need to "assure that it is done safely and is properly monitored." The Sierra Club warned that pumping West Virginia aquifers full of liquid carbon dioxide may lead to increased seismic activity and could affect the quality of local water.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009