CSIRO is devloping new chemical solvents to capture carbon from coal-fired power station flue gases

CSIRO is developing new chemical solvents to capture carbon from coal-fired power station flue gases.

APP post-combustion capture research advances

CSIRO, with funding from the Australian Government through the Asia-Pacific Partnership (APP) Program on Clean Energy and Climate, has completed a four-year, multidisciplinary research effort assessing the role post-combustion carbon capture (PCC) may contribute to a low emission coal future for Australia, and the Asia-Pacific region.

  • 22 June 2012 | Updated 10 February 2014

The challenge

Coal provides around 75 per cent of Australia’s electricity, nearly 17 per cent of export income and approximately 40 per cent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

With low cost coal resources (relative to the global market), a highly competitive electricity market, limited water resources, and limited emission controls at its power stations, finding a commercially-viable solution to reduce Australian carbon emissions is a major challenge confronting government, business, and science.

PCC is a recognised leading technology for the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) from power station emissions and has the advantage that it can be retrofitted to existing infrastructure.

With funding from the Australian Government through the Asia-Pacific Partnership (APP) Program on Clean Energy and Climate, a A$21 million four year research program led by CSIRO examined the effectiveness of PCC under Australian conditions.

Australia’s first PCC demonstration plants

Working with industry partners, two PCC pilot plants were successfully established and operated at existing Australian power stations at Delta Electricity’s Munmorah power station in NSW and at Stanwell Corp’s Tarong power station in Queensland.

The results showed that the PCC technology was able to capture more than 85 per cent of CO2 from the power station flue gases along with other gases such as sulphur dioxide (SO2).

It proved that PCC technology can be fitted to both new and existing power stations and can be operated according to changing consumer demand in the electricity market.

The research also pinpointed the use of renewable energy, such as solar thermal, as an optional heating source for the PCC process, thus reducing the energy cost at the power station.

These first pilot-scale demonstrations of the technology provided invaluable practical experience of PCC in Australia ahead of large-scale implementation.

Laboratory assessment and advances

CSIRO also conducted complementary laboratory studies into the most efficient gas absorbents for CO2 capture.

Scientists tested more than 100 different liquid absorbents and identified a range of solvents that are more efficient than previously known.

Extensive laboratory studies focused on identifying the most efficient amine based absorbents, developing new designer amines and ionic liquids as well as introducing enzymes into the process. Also, a range of processes and designs were modelled, for both a PCC plant and full scale power station, for scale up to commercialisation.

Continuing work

CSIRO is continuing development of PCC with the aim of capturing all emissions with no energy penalty or loss of efficiency at Australian power stations.

The main challenges to implementation of PCC are the costs from additional capital investment and loss of efficiency at the power station – currently the capture of 90 per cent of carbon dioxide would result in a 30 per cent loss in power station efficiency.

CSIRO is working on ways to reduce this cost through improvements to the efficiency of the chemical capture reaction as well as the process at industrial scale.

While the cost imperative is important, once the technology is established, the costs of installing and operating a PCC system will fall substantially.

Partnerships

This work was completed in partnership with energy generators, Delta Electricity and Stanwell Corp. The program was funded through the Asia-Pacific Partnership (APP) on Clean Development and Climate and supported, by a grant from the Department of Resource, Energy and Tourism (DRET).

An important part of the APP program was collaboration among research organisations, technology suppliers and end-users in Australia, Japan, US, China and Korea to accelerate early adoption of the technology in member countries.

Download a copy of the full 132-page technical report Assessing post-combustion capture for coal-fired power station in Asia-Pacific Partnership countries (2012) [PDF 2.92MB].