£1bn UK carbon contest contender chooses Japanese technology

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MHI CO2 capture in Malaysia

E.ON, one of the three frontrunners in a £1 billion competition to build the first commercially viable carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant in the UK, has selected a consortium of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and the UK’s Foster Wheeler Energy Limited as its project team for a proposed 1,600MW CCS demonstration plant at Kingsnorth, southeast England.

The proposed plant, which would mark the first coal-fired power generating plant to be built in the UK in 30 years, would use MHI’s technology to separate, recover and compress flue gas CO2 and, in collaboration with UK oil company Tullow Oil, store it within a depleted gas reservoir in the southern North Sea.

MHI’s post-combustion CO2 recovery technology, known as KM-CDR Process, uses a proprietary solvent developed jointly by MHI and Japan’s Kansai Electric Power.

According to MHI, the process requires considerably less energy consumption than other technologies and its performance in five operational CO2 recovery systems at natural gas-fired plants is highly evaluated. The company has yet to confirm commercially-viable technology for coal-fired plant, although it says its small-scale coal-fired capture plant operated at 10 tonnes/day between 2006 and 2008 under “uninterrupted stable operation.”

E.ON is one of three contenders, along with Scottish Power and RWE npower, shortlisted to build the UK’s first full-scale CCS power plant. The winning proposal will potentially lead to the largest post-combustion CCS plant in the world, and the winners are expected to receive up to UK1bn in technology and development funding.

E.ON's carbon cluster proposal

E.ON’s carbon cluster proposal

E.ON favours a “cluster” approach to CCS development which would network a number of fossil-fuelled power stations and industrial sites to a single carbon transportation system. The company says its approach would effectively ‘future proof’ the development of CCS by allowing new facilities to connect quickly to a pipeline that would work much like the existing national grids for gas supplies and for electricity transmission. The company forecasts it could collect a projected 28 million tones of CO2 per year after 2016 from major emitters on the Thames and Medway Estuaries.

The rewards for demonstrating the first commercial scale technology will be significant – aside from the potential of £1 billion development funding, the winner would become the de facto leader in UK coal plant development. In May, the UK’s Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband affirmed no new coal power station would get consent in the UK without using carbon capture technology from day one, on at least 25% of its output. “Applications that don’t demonstrate carbon capture and storage will be turned down,” he said. And once the technology has been proven, all power stations will be required to fit the technology to 100% of output.

While the UK has this week opened its CCS policy for public consultation, its path has, to a major extent, already been chosen through the limiting of the technologies allowed to compete in the demonstration project contest. “Initially we aimed to run a ‘technology neutral’ competition to select the project to be supported,” says the Department of Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR, now reformed as the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), in a recent parliamentary Q&A report. “Pre-combustion and post-combustion capture are equally valid technologies. However…[it is] virtually impossible to design a competition that would allow the technologies to compete on a level playing field. The only way to hold a fair and transparent competition was to focus on one capture technology.”

According to BERR, post-combustion technology has more value to the UK, since it can be retrofitted to existing plant, while pre-combustion technology is closely integrated into plant design and therefore more suited to new plant. In addition, it says, the majority of new plant in the UK, India and China (where the government vies significant technology export opportunities) will be of pulverized coal plant more suited to post-combustion capture.

About James Ockenden (228 Articles)
Journalist covering energy and power markets since 1996.
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