Insights

R&D in carbon capture - aspects for consideration

Much of the focus of research and development (R&D) for carbon capture has been directed toward reducing the capital cost and energy penalty associated with capture, as a way of lowering the dollar per tonne of carbon dioxide ($/T CO2) abatement cost of CCS.

There are some advantages in undertaking R&D on energy conversion technologies (ie, high efficiency power generation from coal or gas using engine or advanced boiler technology) in order to increase their efficiency and/or enhance their adaptability for carbon capture. For example, for coal–fired generation, increasing the efficiency of an energy conversion technology by two percentage points reduces the quantity of CO2 to be captured by five per cent. If this can be achieved cost effectively and without reducing the amount of “waste” heat available and required for the capture process, then this is likely to result in low $/T CO2 abatement cost outcomes. Another example could be the development or adaptation of energy conversion technologies that are better suited to integration with carbon capture (ie, possess more usable "waste" heat for the capture process relative to other technologies).

There is also merit in undertaking R&D on energy conversion technologies (suitable for carbon capture) that generate dispatchable electricity (eg, power plants that can be turned on and off, or ramped up and down, to meet market demand changes irrespective of the time of day), to develop or better adapt them for contemporary and future power grids, which are likely to have increasing penetration of intermittent renewable generation technology. Such electricity grids will require dispatchable generation technologies to be able to have rapid load following capability, high turndown and potentially rapid start and stop capability, with associated carbon capture technology configured so as to preserve these aforementioned desirable electricity generation attributes. Examining electricity generation technology with carbon capture from a system or value-chain perspective to meet performance requirements underpinning intermittent renewables will likely result in the need for R&D across the value-chain, and not just for the carbon capture element.

The sheer scale at which carbon capture technology needs to be deployed means that large quantities of reagents are likely to be used in carbon capture systems. Therefore, increased focus on R&D examining ways of utilising or enhancing the use of readily available, very low cost reagents for carbon capture may result in a step-change reduction in the cost of capture. As an example, such an approach was used to allow low cost limestone to be utilised as the bulk reagent for sulphur removal from flue gases of coal–fired power stations (the wet FGD process). Specific reagents (used in small quantities) were developed to mitigate fouling in limestone–based wet FGD systems, which allowed their large–scale and reliable deployment. Research on reducing the attrition rate of such reagents would save on operating costs as well.

Finally, the R&D and demonstration of carbon capture technologies at pilot and sub-commercial demonstration scale (TRL 5 to 7) is a very expensive undertaking, the financing of which can be a barrier to timely technology development and deployment. Increased focus on international collaboration for funding of these pilot and sub-commercial demonstrations (as well as efforts to remove associated barriers) is likely to accelerate the timeliness of breakthrough carbon capture technology development, demonstration and deployment.