The first UK pilot of carbon capture technology on a working coal-fired power plant has started up in Scotland

The first UK pilot of carbon capture technology on a working coal-fired power plant has started in Scotland. Energy company Scottish Power, which runs the plant, plans to use this small-scale trial to test the science behind carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The firm’s Spanish parent company, Iberdrola, has also confirmed that it will be establishing a global centre of excellence for CCS in the UK. 

On 29 May Scottish Power started a seven-month trial of a 1MW carbon capture unit at Longannet power station in Fife. The prototype - designed to capture CO2 in flue gases - has been retrofitted into the 40 year old power station, and is a scaled down model of the four 300MW demonstration projects that Alistair Darling, the UK’s chancellor of the exchequer, pledged to fund during his budget speech on 22 April.

’This is the first time that CCS technology has been switched on and working at an operational coal-fired power station in the UK,’ said Nick Horler, chief executive of Scottish Power, as the unit was switched on. ’It’s about taking the concept of CCS out of the lab and making it a full-scale commercial reality and that’s crucial if we hope to achieve tough carbon reduction targets,’ he said. 

The test unit uses the same technology that the company aims to retrofit to the coal-powered station for a commercial scale CCS project by 2014, says Horler. ’The leap from 1MW to 330MW is now within sight,’ he commented.

This prototype, designed by Aker Clean Carbon in Norway, uses amine solvents to separate the CO2 from the remainder of the flue gases. The CO is then separated from the amine by heating, and then goes off for storage in the North Sea while the amine is recycled and used again. 

An important part of this project will be testing the efficiency of three different amines under different conditions. ’We will be using a standard amine that has been used in carbon capture before as a benchmark, and two new amines that have been developed for CCS in Norway,’ Scottish Power’s Simon McMillan told Chemistry World. ’We are hoping that these new amines will make the process more efficient and ultimately reduce the cost.’ To assess their suitability, the energy efficiency of the amines (how much heat it takes to break the bond between the CO2 and the amine during the recycling stage) and how many times they can be recycled and still effectively capture CO2 will be tested.

During the switch on ceremony, Iberdrola also confirmed that it is to establish a global centre of excellence for CCS technology in the UK. As part of these plans the company will fund a chair in CCS at the University of Edinburgh’s school of geosciences to provide academic input into the project. Scottish Power already has links with the university through earlier collaborations in CCS research, and says it will also draw on existing relationships with other academic institutions.

Scottish Power is one of three companies, alongside E.ON UK and Peel Power, left in the UK government’s contest to secure funding to host a commercial scale CCS project. The winner of this contest is due to be announced in the summer, and Scottish Power is hoping that this self-funded, small-scale test will give them the edge over the competition.  

Nina Notman

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