If carbon capture and storage (CCS) fails as a method of providing clean coal, it will probably mean the end of coal-fired electricity generation in Western Europe, International Energy Agency (IEA) Clean Coal Centre manager Robert Davidson tells Engineering News Online.
Davidson estimates that the success or failure of CCS, which is aimed at preventing global climate-changing carbon dioxide (CO2) from entering the atmosphere, is likely be known by 2013.
Davidson, who addressed the Fossil Fuel Foundation of Africa in Johannesburg, says that Western Europe is relying on CCS to transition coal from being a dirty unacceptable fuel to being a clean one that can be allowed to continue to fuel electricity generation.
"Certainly in Western Europe, it's the only way. If carbon capture and storage doesn't work, it probably means the end of coal-fired power generation in Western Europe," Davidson, who is the UK-based Clean Coal Centre's carbon capture and coal science manager, tells Engineering News Online in a video interview.
CCS involves removing CO2 from flue gas streams in conventional power plants, transporting the CO2 in liquefied form in pipelines and then injecting the gas into underground disposal sites at least 800 m deep.
The indications are that the CO2 will then remain underground permanently, as natural gas does prior to being extracted.
Davidson cites three main methods of capturing CO2 from power stations.The first method is to absorb the CO2 as a solvent, the second is to use oxy-fuel combustion, and the third, which cannot be applied to existing power plants, is to use integrated gasification combined-cycle power plants and capture the CO2 before the coal has been burnt.
Davidson believes that it is unlikely that large-scale use will be found for the captured CO2 stored in the ground.
As CO2 is the highest oxidation state of carbon, there is very little that can be done chemically to create a potential revenue stream from the carbon.
South African CCS Centre executive Sibbele Hietkamp, who also addressed the Fossil Fuel Foundation conference on clean coal, says that a scoping study for the establishment of the undertaking of a test injection of CO2 into the ground is likely to begin in South Africa in early 2011.
South Africa's CCS Centre falls under the South African National Energy Research Institute.
"We plan to start in January. We have looked at a number of consortiums and we have chosen one of them to start work on the test-injection project," Hietkamp tells Engineering News Online in the same video interview.
The scoping study is expected to take nine months, after which preparations will begin for the actual injection of CO2 into the ground in 2016.
Heitkamp says that the construction of a demonstration plant is then scheduled for 2020.
"There will have to be transport from where the CO2 is generated to where it is actually going to be stored," he says.