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World watches as carbon capture trial begins

US coal-fired plant embarks on sequestration experiment

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Georgia Power's Plant Bowen station, about 40 km northwest of Atlanta. Courtesy of AFP/Getty.
Georgia Power's Plant Bowen station, about 40 km northwest of Atlanta. Courtesy of AFP/Getty.

The international energy industry will be keeping a close eye on developments at the Mountaineer power plant in New Haven, West Virginia over the next few weeks as the world’s first carbon capture experiment grinds into action.

The coal-fired Mountaineer station, built in 1980 as part of American Electric Power (AEP)’s network of sites, plans to inject 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually into a layer of dolomite rock around 8,000 feet underground. The figure amounts to around 1.5% of the plant’s annual CO2 emissions.

It is believed that the experiment could begin as early as this week. Smoke diverted from the plant’s chimney is mixed with a chilled ammonia-based chemical, which is then heated, releasing the carbon dioxide, which is then piped underground.

The process will use up between 15-30% of the plant’s total energy output. Not only that, but it is also expensive, with AEP and Alstom thought to have contributed over US $100 million jointly towards the cost of the factory at the site.

But the potential for coal-fired power generation is immense; as the cheapest but most polluting hydrocarbon resource available, an efficient and cost-effective carbon capture and sequestration system could offer huge dividends for countries that have significant coal deposits.

The experiment will be closely followed in the GCC as well, where Oman and Ajman are building coal-fired power generation plants. A more detailed update on the Mountaineer experiment and what it could mean for the Middle East will be published in the October issue of Utilities Middle East.

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