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The Capture-Committed Power Plant

Moving coal forward requires a clear path to CCS.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2008
Figure 2

to capital and operating costs higher than competitors, as well as an uncertain permitting path and undefined long-term liabilities. Moreover, the capture portion of the plant could well be rendered obsolete by technical progress by the time CCS is more broadly commercial.

All these barriers are expected to fall as CCS advances, applicable regulations are promulgated, and CO 2 emissions limitations are imposed or tightened. Over the last decade, considerable progress has been made on the technical front. Extensive and growing research, development and demonstration efforts are being devoted to CCS throughout the world and legal-regulatory frameworks are being defined.

A consensus is emerging among experts that, provided adequate resources are put into its development, CCS will become commercially viable for power generation by about 2020. 1

Capture-Ready Power

The United States and many other countries face a dilemma: New coal-fired baseload capacity is needed now, but CCS is not yet commercially viable to reduce the CO 2 emissions that capacity would produce. If these plants were to be built without CCS—even with the higher efficiencies of ultra-supercritical power plants or integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC)—their CO 2 emissions could continue for the life of the plant, typically 40 or more years, a situation called “carbon lock-in.” The concept of the capture-ready power plant was formulated to overcome this dilemma. The idea is to build the plant initially without CCS, but to make provisions to retrofit the plant with CCS at a later date, when doing so becomes economically viable.

Capture-ready power plants first were proposed for developing countries where the financial and technical capabilities to implement CCS are less than in developed economies, but growth in coal-fired generation is greater. 2,3 Early capture-ready concepts also focused on IGCC. More recently, the concept has been proposed for power plants in industrialized countries and has been expanded to include conventional coal and even natural gas plants. The European Commission, for example, has proposed a directive requiring that all new fossil- power plants be capture ready, that no fossil-power plant be authorized after January 1, 2015 unless 90 percent of its CO 2 emissions are captured and stored, and that all fossil-power plants be retrofitted by 2025. 4 The proposed regulatory framework in Canada mandates capture-ready plants in the coal and oil sands industries from 2012 and requires those plants to meet a CO 2 emissions standard based on CCS by 2018. 5 In the United States, developers of many of the recently-proposed coal plants have claimed their power plants are capture ready. State legislatures and utility regulators are considering various measures to enable needed coal-fired capacity to go forward while ensuring CCS is implemented. Solutions include financial incentives. In Virginia, for example, a legislative initiative provides that an enhanced rate of return be linked to a new clean- coal plant being “carbon-capture compatible.”

The design of a capture-ready power plant depends on the type and size of the plant being developed and the type of capture being considered (see Sidebar, “Carbon-Capture Options”) . Capture readiness involves a range of technical options with varying