Germany launches first pilot CO2 scrubber

NEIDERAUSSEM, GERMANY - RWE AG and partners have officially launched Germany's first carbon-capture pilot plant at the brown-coal-fired plant in Niederaussem, Bergheim.

The pilot plant for scrubbing carbon-dioxide (CO2) from flue gas is part of RWE Power's Coal Innovation Centre, which also houses a prototype plant for pre-drying lignite, a pilot plant for integrating CO2 in algae biomass, and a REAplus high-performance scrubber for improved separation of dust and sulphur dioxide from flue gas. According to RWE, the plant is a vital step towards making cleaner coal-based power a reality. RWE is working with partners BASF SE and Linde AG.

"Modern technologies enable us to use coal, one of the important energy sources, while at the same time meeting our climate protection goals," said Federal Minister of Economics and Technology, Dr Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. "The CO2-scrubbing plant brings us one step closer to a coal-fired power plant of the future."

The German ministry of Economics and Technology is funding 40% of the 9 million euro project, and initial tests at the pilot plant last month delivered “promising results,” RWE claimed.

The plant is capable of capturing roughly 300 kilograms of CO2 per hour from a partial flow of power station flue gases. Capture efficiency is rated at 90%.

Going forward, all aspects of CO2 scrubbing will be investigated at the plant under realistic conditions. RWE expects the project to lead to the kind of full-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) solutions that European energy suppliers will need to retro-fit to existing coal- and gas-fired stations from 2020 under European Union legislation.

"The only way to really reduce CO2 is to get out of the laboratory and build large test plants in order to obtain tangible results to support climate protection," said RWE CEO Dr. Juergen Grossmann at the launch. "We need the close alliance between industry and government to advance this technology. The climate-friendly CCS technology is not only important for power station operators, but also for refineries, chemical plants, steelworks and cement factories. Industrial maturity for the technology can only be achieved through substantial financial and political support. This means we need suitable CCS legislation as quickly as possible."

Grossmann's comments reflect the disappointment of Germen energy companies, which were relying on the government to pass vital CCS legislation earlier this year. However, worried about the forthcoming elections, the German coalition government postponed the introduction of a proposed CCS law that would have created a legal framework for the rollout of CCS pilots and sped up the development of the technology.

Germany needs effective CCS solutions more than most other European countries, as the country generates 50% of its power from coal-fired plants and is the biggest emitter of CO2 in Europe. Without commercial-scale CCS solutions, the country faces an energy crisis as older coal-fired plants will have to be shut down after 2020. The situation is even more pressing since the country is currently phasing out nuclear power.


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