Suppliers of carbon capture technology hit paydirt

After years of wrangling over carbon capture and storage (CCS), governments have started to back the technology with policy and money, prompting a potential gold rush of contracts for well-placed suppliers.

The global market for CCS in 2007/08 was worth £13.28-billion, but there is huge potential for expansion, particularly as governments announce funding mechanisms for the first generation of demonstration plants. The sector is predicted to grow by about 4% a year between now and 2015.

The International Energy Agency says the world’s use of power will increase by 50% by 2030, with 77% of that coming from fossil fuels. At its best, CCS could trap up to 90% of a power plant’s carbon emissions, but only two small-scale demonstration projects are anywhere near operation—one at Schwarze Pumpe in east Germany and the other at Lacq in the French Pyrenees.

Building bigger CCS plants is crucial if the technology is to become commercial, but it is expensive and risky, owing particularly to a lack of clear direction from governments.

But Jeff Chapman, chief executive of the United Kingdom’s CCS Association, which lobbies on behalf of companies in the field, says his association was beginning to see “at long last” the beginnings of ongoing government policy.

“There’s a sense among all the companies that CCS is inevitable.
It’s not a question of ‘will it happen?’, it’s ‘when does it happen?’”

Established engineering companies were the first to enter the CCS field.

Those that already build complex power plants for electricity utility companies spotted the potential early and virtually all are working on one or more of the three basic approaches to the technology.

Alstom, Siemens and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), Fluor and BASF have designs for post-combustion technology, where the CO2 is extracted from the exhaust gas of a standard coal station and piped away to be buried. Alstom, in particular, leads the field with Schwarze Pumpe and Lacq based on its technology.

Siemens, along with GE and Shell, also has advanced designs for a pre-combustion power plant where coal is gasified to produce hydrogen that can be burned to make electricity. During gasification, CO2 is separated and taken off for burial.

The third type of CCS is called oxyfuel, where the fuel is burned in an atmosphere of almost pure oxygen, producing an exhaust gas that is almost entirely CO2. Alstom and Doosan Babcock Energy are among the leaders in the proprietary boiler designs required for this method.

Perfecting capture technology is just the start of the global opportunity on CCS. As implementation ramps up and regulation of new power stations increases, many other industrial sectors will get involved.

This includes gas suppliers and companies to provide the oxygen for oxyfuel boilers; compressor and pipeline companies to transport CO2 and make it more manageable for storage; and geological consultancies that have, until now, been big players in the fossil fuels industry, in prospecting for suitable storage sites.—

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