Power giant plans ‘cleanest’ coal plant

A 'clean coal' plant that would capture and bury most of its carbon emissions could become the first coal-fuelled power station to be built in the UK since the seventies, under plans announced by British Gas owner Centrica.

Although not the first ‘clean coal’ project in the UK, the £1bn plant would produce almost zero emissions and would be the first with built-in carbon capture and storage (CCS), a spokesman for Centrica told edie.

The Teesside plant would produce a sixth of the carbon emissions of a traditional coal-fired power station, and capture over 80% of this to be piped for storage under the North Sea, giving overall carbon emissions equivalent to less than 4% of those of a traditional coal plant.

Using the “integrated gasification combined cycle” (IGCC) method, an emerging technology new to the UK, would enable the capture of a particularly high portion of the emissions. IGCC involves crushing coal into a powder that is then turned into an artificial gas, and the carbon extracted before combustion.

Each megawatt hour of electricity generated by the Teesside plant would produce around 0.15 tonnes of carbon, compared with 0.9 tonnes for a traditional coal-fired plant, or 0.45 for a gas-fired plant, the company said.

Two other clean coal plants have been proposed for the UK, an E.ON project on the Lincolnshire coast and an RWE scheme in the Thames estuary, but these would be far behind in terms of carbon emissions with around 0.7 tonnes of carbon per MWh, according to Centrica.

Another point setting the Centrica project apart is that it would be designed to run on British coal, unlike its competitors.

Construction of the Teesside plant could start in two years, following a development period while Centrica assesses the economics and viability of the project which it nevertheless says is almost certain to go ahead.

By 2012-13, the plant could be supplying 800MW of electricity – enough to heat and light one million homes – to British Gas customers.

“The main reason for going into this project is its low carbon emissions, which makes economic sense if you start reflecting future carbon price in power generation build,” the Centrica spokesman said.

The clean coal plant could also be ran on natural gas, and is part of the British Gas owner’s drive to diversify its power sources, he said. These already include wind as well as the nation’s biggest fleet of gas-fuelled plants, with a new 500MW wind farm on the Greater Wash in the pipeline.

To secure the Teesside project Centrica bought an 85% share in a company called Coastal Energy, a subsidiary of Progressive Energy Ltd which initiated the plans, as well as a controlling share in Coots, a CO2 pipeline company.

Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, said: “This landmark agreement gives Centrica the option to take advantage of the environmental and economic benefits offered by emerging clean coal technology and could lead to the development of the UK’s first complete clean coal plant.”

Earlier this week the International Energy Agency predicted that on current trends energy use would grow by 53% by 2030, with fossil fuels expected to meet 83% of the growth between 2004 and 2030.

Goska Romanowicz

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