This last semester a got a chance to work here on the UT campus as a lab technician for the Rochelle group, which is researching ways to sequester flue gas from coal fired power plants. The primary technology being studied uses organic amines in an absorber/stripper system to absorb the CO2 out of power plant flue gas. The separated CO2 can then be compressed with traditional compressor equipment and sequestered into the ground. The basic technology was developed in the late 1920’s to absorb CO2 out of natural gas and oil refinery streams. The technology has been significantly improved since its inception to allow for higher energy efficiency, decreased corrosion of plant materials, and decreased degradation of the amine solvent. Some major focus areas of Dr. Rochelle’s research included studying inhibitors that prevent the amines form degrading in the presence of oxygen and studying chemical kinetics for proper equipment sizing.
If this clean coal technology was implemented two major capital intensive projects would need to be implemented. First, coal power plants would need to install these systems on their flue gas process streams. Second, additional power plants would need to be constructed to account for energy used in the absorption/stripping process.
The rule of thumb used by the group calculated that an 800 MW coal fired power plant would lose about 1/3 of its power output using this technology due to energy consumption (The 800 MW plant is would now be a 533 MW plant). According to the EIA energy review the United States generates about 1.8 Trillion KW-hr of electricity from coal. If this technology was implemented today about 0.6 trillion KW-hr of new power would need to be produced to offset the loss. If we decided to replace this loss with 800 MW coal plants we would have to build 750,000 new power plants (0.6 x 10^12 KW-hr/800,000 KW-hr).
By these numbers I wish I was a power plant construction contractor right about now!