Last month's announcement by the UK government's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) that it had withdrawn its funding from the carbon capture and storage (CCS) project, due to be implemented at the 2.4 GW Longannet coal fired power plant in Scotland, came as quite a shock to the CCS community and the wider power industry.
The government's reason behind pulling the plug on the project was a simple one – money. According to the government, the project no longer represented a good investment for public funds. In these fiscally constrained times, it is maybe not surprising to see politicians being extremely careful with taxpayers' money.
When E.ON cancelled its plans to build a coal fired station with prototype CCS technology at its Kingsnorth site last year Longannet became UK's most advanced CCS project.
Thus the decision to cancel the project does beg the question: What now for the commercialisation of CCS in the UK, and, arguably more important, its desire to lead the world in CCS technology?
On the plus-side, the government was quick to confirm that the £1 billion ($1.6 billion) earmarked for CCS demonstration would be used to pursue other projects, and DECC representatives were due to meet with industry leaders earlier this month.
The outcome of that discussion has not been made public, but certainly the opinion of many in the UK power sector is that any CCS demo project is likely to be conducted at a gas fired rather than a coal fired power plant.
In recent years, utilities and suppliers to the power industry have made significant investments in pilot carbon capture projects right across the globe, which are demonstrating the effectiveness of capturing the carbon dioxide (CO2) from a power plant's stack. So are the cost concerns in relation to the commercialization of CCS more to do with the required transportation network investment, as well as identifying suitable storage sites?
If this is the case, could there be an alternative to storage? Could we see CO2 transformed from a much-maligned waste product that costs power plant operators money into a desirable byproduct that could generate cash?
We are all familiar with the concept of enhanced oil recovery, where CO2 from industrial processes are injected into essentially depleted oil reserves, enabling the recovery of oil that cannot be recovered by either primary production or secondary water flooding. Countries such as the US and Norway are actively demonstrating this, and if the economics work it can create a win-win situation for all.
But how about some 'blue sky thinking'? One organisation that is doing just that is the Advanced Concepts Group at Lotus Engineering, based in the UK. Speaking recently at 'The Future of Carbon Capture & Storage Technology' seminar in London, Dr. Richard Pearson, who is a senior technical specialist at Lotus' Advanced Research Concepts Group, explained how in the not too distant future we could be replacing the oil-based fuels in our vehicles for one synthesized from carbon dioxide. With transportation being the fastest growing sector in terms of carbon emissions, this conversion technology, in one fell swoop, would turn our cars carbon neutral!
Obviously, it is not quite as straightforward as that, and the commercialisation of such a conversion process is still some way off, but wouldn't it be great to think that potentially one day the carbon emissions captured from your power station could be ultimately fuelling your journey to and from work.
Finally, I would like to address a remiss of mine. In the October issue, you may have noticed a new name appeared. What I did not do was introduce that person to you. I am delighted to do so now.
The new deputy editor of Power Engineering International is Kelvin Ross, who previously was news editor at the UK online news site, Energy Live News. Please join me in welcoming him onboard.