Clean coal must stay high on the agenda
1 November 2011 - Updated: 24 November 2011
With its capacity to reduce CO2 emissions from coal-fired power stations by up to 90%, carbon capture and storage (CCS) offers a game-changing technology for industry worldwide. And, until the UK government's lastminute decision to axe it (News p6), the Longannet CCS project in Scotland promised to put the UK's process engineers at the forefront of this field.
Reaction to the decision is well summed up by a Process Engineering reader, who commented: "This project was the most advanced in the UK. To have the plug pulled is a kick in the teeth to all the people who have worked hard to try and make this happen."
The government is now under pressure to approve another candidate for its £1-billion fund to finance a CCS demonstration project. Reports suggest that, of the leading bids, at least three are at coal-fired plants pre-combustion projects at Don Valley and Killingholme, and an oxyfuel project at Drax and one at a gas-fired plant in Peterhead.
Coal power should have priority, though, as without CCS, the UK faces the prospect of losing virtually all of its 19 existing coal stations, which currently supply almost 30% of the country's electricity. This would also kill off the entire coal mining and production sector that supplies them.
Energy-intensive industries, such as iron & steel and chemicals, also stand to lose through missing out on the emissions-reduction potential of CCS infrastructure linked to coal-fired power plants as well as, of course, through higher fuel bills.
This latter concern is raised in our report on the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) proposals (News Analysis, p9). Among other impacts, the EMR could make the UK much more vulnerable to the vagaries of gas demand around the world and, as Andrew Buckley of the Major Energy Users' Council comments, leave industry facing a "future of unremitting [energy] price increases."