Sucking it up: Powerspan tests carbon capture technology

OK, it’s well established that coal is one of the single biggest perpetrators when it comes to coughing up carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Harry has had a lot more to say about this topic than me, and his latest blog on the subject reveals that our coal dependence isn’t likely to wane anytime soon.

OK, it’s well established that coal is one of the single biggest perpetrators when it comes to coughing up carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Harry has had a lot more to say about this topic than me, and his latest blog on the subject reveals that our coal dependence isn’t likely to wane anytime soon.

So, one segment of the green tech/clean tech field is focused on the capture and redirection, shall we say, of the carbon dioxide produced by coal plants. One example is Powerspan, a portfolio company of NGEN Partners (a venture capital firm focused on clean tech investments).

Powerspan is worth attention because it just signed a commercial-scale deal to test its carbon capture and sequestration technology along with NRG Energy. The specific focus of the project is Powerspan’s ECO(2) technology, which captures the gas within the flue of a coal plant using an ammonia-based substance, separates out the carbon dioxide and prepares it for ground disposal. Typically, the captured carbon dioxide is used in oil fields for enhanced oil recovery, according to Steve Parry, chairman of Powerspan and a managing member of NGEN.

Over the past 15 years, Powerspan has spent about $70 million on the research and development behind this approach. Parry calls this treating the problem at its source. (He cites stats that estimate about 40 percent of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere in most countries comes from coal.) Since 2004, the company has been working with the U.S. Department of Energy National Technology Laboratory on research and development.

To date, most of the tests of Powerspan's technology have been at a pilot level with units producing a limited amount of electricity, Parry says. The new test, which is being conducted at an NRG plant in Sugarland, Texas, is focused on a facility creating flue gas equivalent to that required to produce 125 megawatts of electricity. The two companies will collaborate on the design, construction and operation of the carbon dioxide capture facility.

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