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Will Exxon-FuelCell Energy Carbon Capture Technology be the CCS Breakthrough the Industry Needs?

fuelcell-energy-ccsFuelCell Energy and ExxonMobil will test their carbon capture technology at a coal and gas-fired power plant operated by Southern Company subsidiary Alabama Power.

FuelCell Energy and Exxon first announced the development of this new technology, which they say could “substantially reduce costs” associated with carbon capture, back in May. The process uses carbonate fuel cells to concentrate and capture carbon dioxide from power plants.

Late last week, the two companies said they selected a location for the 2.3 megawatt pilot project that will test carbon capture from coal and natural gas power generation: Alabama Power’s 2.7 gigawatt James M. Barry power plant in Bucks.

Most agree that if coal is going to play a role in future power generation, it must incorporate technology to capture and store carbon. But so far, these technologies have run into numerous financial and technical hurdles that have prevented commercial carbon capture from becoming a viable solution to coal’s carbon emissions problems.

Capturing and storing CO2 requires massive amounts of energy, and that can be very expensive — the cost of electricity can increase by up to 80 percent when applying commercial capture technologies to coal-fired power plant, according to the IEA Clean Coal Center.

FuelCell Enregy and Exxon say their fuel cell carbon capture technology could reduce costs and lead to a more economical pathway toward large-scale carbon capture and sequestration.

FuelCell Energy’s Tony Leo, vice president of application engineering and new technology development, told Environmental Leader that the two companies’ technology reduces costs “because the fuel cells are producing power while efficiently capturing and concentrating the CO2. The power has value and can be sold. Conventional carbon capture technologies like amine scrubbers use a lot of power — about 20 percent of the total power plant output for an amine scrubber — so are a cost.”

The pilot plant tests will use FuelCell Energy’s carbonate fuel cell power system to concentrate and capture a portion of the carbon dioxide emissions from the power plant as part of the fuel cells’ power generation process. Flue gas from power generation will be directed into the fuel cells’ air intake system where it is combined with natural gas.

The fuel cells concentrate and capture carbon dioxide and also eliminate about 70 percent of smog-producing nitrogen oxide from coal, the companies say.

The installation of the fuel cell plant will begin after engineering studies, which are already underway, have been completed.

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