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China forging ahead with carbon capture


11 September 2008

By Hepeng Jia/Beijing, China

China's first carbon capture trial is being rated a success by China Huaneng (CHNG), the state owned energy firm that is running it. The company is making money by selling carbon dioxide to beverage companies to add fizz to their drinks. 

Huaneng's post-combustion capture (PCC) pilot project started in June at the company's Gaobeidian power plant in suburban Beijing , removing CO2 after coal combustion. The technology uses solvents to capture CO2 from power station flue gases and has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions from existing and future coal-fired power stations by more than 85 per cent. The Huaneng pilot plant is designed to capture 3000 tonnes of CO per year.

Carbon capture pilot plant in China
The Huaneng pilot plant in suburban Beijing

© CHINA NEWS SERVICE
'Not including construction costs, CO2 sales to beverage makers in Beijing are easily able to cover operation costs at the Gaobeidian plant,' says Liu Lianbo, an engineer at the Xi'an Thermal Power Research Institute (TPRI), a research branch of Huaneng, whose team set up the PCC project. Liu was unable to reveal financial figures for the PCC construction and operation.

Making up for lost time

Despite its potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the high cost of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology has limited its global use. Although China is a major carbon emitter, it was late coming on the CCS scene. It is now rapidly making 

up for lost time. 'In late 2007 we began the technical preparation for the Gaobeidian project,' says Liu. Just six months later, the towering PCC facilities had been erected in the Gaobeidian power station. 'We had to be quick because of the Olympics,' adds Liu.

Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has given Huaneng some support and advice, but the company has refused offers of financial help from some developed country governments. 'We believe that Huaneng's independence in the PCC project is essential for further development and implementation of PCC in the Chinese context,' says Paul Feron, research leader at CSIRO Energy Technology. 

With funding from the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate initiative, CSIRO will continue to provide Huaneng with some technical support for the next 18 months. 

Meeting challenges

The Huaneng PCC is attracting the attention of other power generators across China. 'Our practice has shown that if there is public funding to support PCC construction, business sectors can successfully operate PCC,' says Liu.

The Huaneng PCC project has yet to have any major technical hitches, but is not without challenges. For example, amino alcohol solvents are used to trap CO2. When the solvent is rejuvenated after use by heating, in order to release its captured CO2, some of it evaporates away. Feron considers that process conditions can be varied to obtain better performance.

'The power sector needs to become familiar with PCC, which is essentially a chemical process,' adds Feron. 'The Huaneng Beijing plant has the best quality flue gas to demonstrate PCC, but there are other power stations where flue gases are less clean and the challenge remains to develop PCC for these power stations in a cost-effective manner.' 

Both Feron and Liu stress that to improve the reduction of carbon emissions from coal-fired power stations, it is important to combine PCC with IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle), a clean coal technology that turns coal into gas and removes impurities from the coal gas before combustion. 

Huaneng and other Chinese power generators have already invested billions of yuan in building IGCC facilities, but so far carbon capture and IGCC have not been integrated in China.

Future storage

Huaneng has yet to attempt carbon storage, says Liu. 'We have been talking with some potential partners for storing the captured carbon in waste oil fields or mines, but now is too early to announce the exact results,' he adds.

Massive geological assessments are needed to determine the best places in China to store CO2. Jiang Kejun, a senior researcher at the Beijing-based Energy Research Institute, says that China's late take-up of CO2 reduction technology could work to its advantage, enabling it to grasp the newest technologies and methodologies. 

China's huge carbon emissions, its low-cost facilities and its status as a new player that is ready to embrace the newest technologies could make the country the world leader in CCS, adds Jiang. 'China should start planning for CCS as soon as possible,' he advises. 

 

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Also of interest

How to bury the problem

Carbon capture and storage could allow us to burn fossil fuels without climate consequences - but only with more investment in R&D, argues Stuart Haszeldine

Funding carbon capture

Calls for incentives to speed development of commercial scale plants

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