Saturday, December 29, 2007

Why are there no GTCC plants doing CO2 sequestration?

Rod Adams makes an excellent point here. Go down a bit. 11th paragraph:
If it is relatively easy to capture the CO2 from an IGCC [Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle coal-burning plant], why wouldn't we start working to prove that assumption by capturing the CO2 from at least several of the existing GTCC (gas turbine combined cycle) plants that use natural gas as their heat source?
CO2 sequestration for coal-fired powerplants is held out as the major way that America will reduce it's CO2 emissions significantly over the next two decades. But, CO2 sequestration requires a lot of tinkering with the plant. An IGCC is nice for efficiency, but is not required. Several other really serious pieces of equipment are required, however:
  • Sequestration costs big money. Since you really don't want to unnecessarily sequester 4 times as much nitrogen as CO2, you seperate that nitrogen and vent it. Since you don't want to seperate nitrogen from the exhaust gas (you'd have to cool it), you seperate it from the incoming airstream. Thus, the air filter on an ordinary plant is replaced with an expensive and energy-hungry plant with cryogenics, multiple turbines, and heat exchangers galore.
  • The exhaust must be compressed and liquified to inject it into the ground. Most of the heat must be removed from the exhaust in order to compress it. In a normal coal-fired powerplant, a large fraction of the waste heat is rejected by simply venting the exhaust into the air. In a CO2 sequestrating facility, you need a big heat exchanger and a cooling tower to do that work. Oh, and a larger fresh water supply.
Rod is right, the economics of all this stuff could be proved out on an GTCC plant, or even a plain old combustion turbine fired by nearly anything. I think it's pretty obvious that the carbon-burning electricity producers (coal and gas) benefit from deferring the installation of CO2 sequestration equipment. And, no better way to defer installation than to defer development until after the development of a brand-new burner technology (IGCC) which will take a decade or two to roll out.

So, they talk about sequestration while they defer it as long as possible.

Interestingly, one of the side effects of concentrating the oxygen in the gas being burned is that the operating temperature increases, which could improve efficiency. Unfortunately, combustion turbines already run at temperatures higher than the melting point of the turbine blades... and probably cannot be run hotter. My guess is that exhaust CO2 will be cooled, recirculated and recompressed, and then used to dilute the oxygen in the incoming stream to lower flame temperature.

[Update: check the comments on this post. Harry Jaeger makes some nice points.]