• Oct 9th 2009 at 2:57PM
  • 17
"But what about the long tailpipe?"

Critics of plug-in vehicles often use the "long tailpipe" argument – the fact that CO2 emissions are generated at a power plant somewhere instead of coming from the vehicle – to show that all the "zero emission" cars aren't as clean as they seem. Plug-in advocates can then counter that, well, an EV is more efficient than an ICE car and we can use solar or wind to power our rides. But the fact remains that when plug-ins become more and more popular, they will be powered to a large extent by coal plants.

While coal has its own issues (mountain top removal? No, thanks), there is good news to report about a pilot carbon capture project running at the Pleasant Prairie coal-fueled power plant in Wisconsin. We Energies, Alstom and The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) have used, since early 2008, a patented chilled ammonia process that is able to remove over 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from the plant's flue stream. The carbon is then "compressed, pipelined, and injected into two different saline reservoirs" that are about 8,000 feet beneath the plant. The test runs through the end of this year, and the operators have already begun scaling up the system to work on larger plants that produce tons more emissions.

[Source: We Energies]
Photo by Rennett Stowe. Licensed under Creative Commons license 2.0.


Pilot Project Captures 90% of CO2

PLEASANT PRAIRIE, Wis., Oct. 8 /PRNewswire/ -- We Energies, Alstom and The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) announced today that a pilot project testing an advanced chilled ammonia process has demonstrated more than 90 percent capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the flue stream of at a coal-fueled power plant in Wisconsin.

At a press conference at We Energies' Pleasant Prairie Power Plant, which hosted the project, We Energies Chairman, President and CEO Gale Klappa, Alstom U.S. President Pierre Gauthier, and EPRI Senior Vice President Hank Courtright discussed the demonstration of Alstom's patented chilled ammonia process for carbon capture. Testing at the pilot facility, using a 1.7-megawatt (electric) slipstream from the plant, began in early 2008 and will conclude later this year.

The project confirmed the predicted performance of the chilled ammonia carbon capture system at an operating power plant. It achieved key research metrics around hours of operation, ammonia release, CO2 removal levels, and CO2 purity. In doing so, the project demonstrated the fundamental viability of the carbon capture technology in real-world conditions such as changes in temperature and humidity, the inevitable starts and stops of a large power plant, and the environmental hurdles that go along with using any chemical process.

"One of the biggest challenges facing our industry is the development of cost effective technology that will allow us to capture carbon from the operation of power plants around the world," said Klappa. "Today, with the success we're reporting from the research here at Pleasant Prairie, the solution is one step closer to reality."

Lessons learned at Pleasant Prairie already have provided critical information for efforts to scale up effective carbon capture and storage technologies for new power plants and for retrofit to existing plants. A scaled-up 20-megawatt (electric) capture system has been installed at AEP's 1,300-megawatt Mountaineer Plant, where it will remove an estimated 90% of carbon dioxide emissions from the flue gas stream it processes, capturing up to 100,000 metric tons of CO2 per year.

The captured CO2 will be compressed, pipelined, and injected into two different saline reservoirs located approximately 8,000 feet beneath the plant site. Battelle Memorial Institute will serve as the consultant for AEP on geological storage as an extensive monitoring system will be used to track the extent of the sequestered CO2 over time.

"This project has been a success. It proved what we needed to know to stay on schedule to commercialize carbon capture technology for new and existing power plants by 2015, a necessary step to meet ambitious climate change targets being proposed by policy makers in the U.S. and around the world," Gauthier said. "Alstom believes carbon capture, along with energy efficiency and a full portfolio of low carbon technologies including renewable power, will all be needed to achieve urgent CO2 reduction goals in a timely manner."

Alstom, a leader in carbon capture technology, is pursuing 10 demonstration projects in six different countries, including the We Energies project and partnership at Mountaineer with American Electric Power. The Mountaineer project is one of two current or planned post-combustion carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstrations for which EPRI has formed an industry collaborative to support management of testing and evaluations.

The EPRI collaborative will support the integration process/design of CO2 capture technologies and the monitoring and verification of CO2 storage, and it will assess the large-scale impacts of CO2 controls and storage on post-combustion coal-fueled generation. The data collected and analyzed by the collaborative will support efforts to advance CCS technologies to commercial scale and provide information to the public and industry on future electricity generation options.

EPRI is leading or supporting seven Industry Technology Demonstrations as part of its efforts to help develop a "full portfolio" of innovative technology approaches needed to make substantial CO2 emissions reductions while minimizing economic impacts. EPRI's Prism and MERGE analyses (available at www.epri.com) found that deployment of a full portfolio of advanced technologies, including CCS, could reduce U.S. electric sector CO2 emissions by 2030 to a level below 1990 emissions. EPRI currently is working on a global analysis that is expected to show similar energy mix changes and significant economic impacts.

"We Energies, Alstom, EPRI and 37 other companies worked together to successfully advance carbon capture technology to the next step in its development," said EPRI Senior Vice President Hank Courtright. "EPRI's analyses show carbon capture and storage will be essential to achieve meaningful CO2 emissions reductions, and do it in a cost-effective way while meeting demand growth. Projects like this one, where a company steps up to lead a project and several more form a collaborative support it, are critical to advancing the technologies that we need to reduce the industry's carbon footprint."

To learn more about the Pleasant Prairie carbon capture project, go to

About We Energies

We Energies serves more than 1.1 million electric customers in Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula and more than 1 million natural gas customers in Wisconsin. We Energies is the trade name of Wisconsin Electric Power Company and Wisconsin Gas LLC, the principal utility subsidiaries of Wisconsin Energy Corporation (NYSE:WEC) . Visit the We Energies Web site at

www.we-energies.com. Learn more about Wisconsin Energy Corporation by visiting www.wisconsinenergy.com.

About Alstom

Alstom (www.alstom.com) is a global leader in the world of power generation and rail infrastructure and sets the benchmark for innovative and environmentally friendly technologies. Alstom builds the fastest train and the highest capacity automated metro in the world, and provides turnkey integrated power plant solutions, equipment and associated services for a wide variety of energy sources, including hydro, nuclear, gas, coal and wind. The Group employs more than 81,000 people in 70 countries, and had orders of euro 24.6 billion in 2008/09.

Alstom is at the forefront of carbon capture technology development. In the past few years, Alstom has announced plans to develop ten CO2 capture demonstration projects in six countries. All told, Alstom is mobilizing hundreds of employees and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in support of its stated goal of making carbon capture technology commercially available within six years.

About the Electric Power Research Institute

The Electric Power Research Institute, Inc. (EPRI, www.epri.com) conducts research and development relating to the generation, delivery and use of electricity for the benefit of the public. An independent, nonprofit organization, EPRI brings together its scientists and engineers as well as experts from academia and industry to help address challenges in electricity, including reliability, efficiency, health, safety and the environment. EPRI's members represent more than 90 percent of the electricity generated and delivered in the United States, and international participation extends to 40 countries. EPRI's principal offices and laboratories are located in Palo Alto, Calif.; Charlotte, N.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Lenox, Mass

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      What ever happen to gasification coal power plant.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I love how the new hip thing is to put our pollution in the ground rather than the air.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Where does all the "chilled ammonia" come from? Eskimo pee?
      • 5 Years Ago
      "Critics of plug-in vehicles often use the "long tailpipe" argument – the fact that CO2 emissions are generated at a power plant somewhere instead of coming from the vehicle"

      Aren't critics usually educated? The fact of the matter is (and everyone who is educated knows it) that while electric vehicles can leave a carbon footprint, they have significantly lower carbon footprints even is you assume that ALL of their electricity comes from coal plants...
        • 5 Years Ago
        to Boyprodigy1:

        If education does not include thermodynamics, then "everybody who is educated" might think like you. However, the heat thrown away at most power plants is enormous, and a good hybrid like the Prius comes out ahead of a plug-in version of that same car drawing from coal fired power generation.

        It turns out that the Prius heat engine is more efficient than coal fired power plant heat engines. Then matters are made worse becouse coal puts out about 35% more CO2 per BTU than does gasoline. So as long as coal is the cheapest fuel and coal fired plants have abundant reserve capacity, and this will be the case far into the future, the fad of electric cars is a bad thing. Even in California, the legal restrictions on coal use are self delusional since less use of coal means more use of natural gas, and since the fuels are bought on a national market basis, more use of natural gas in California means more use of coal elsewhere.

        Cap and trade might handle the problem, but it looks unlikely that a meaningful penalty will actually be imposed on coal such that a national shift will happen. If that were the case, then the long tailpipe might reach to a natural gas generating plant and the net result would be a modest reduction in CO2 emissions.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Well-to-wheel efficiency is much better with EVs, even from a coal source.

        Furthermore, many countries generate electricity with significantly less polluting energy sources. If the issue is looked at from a global perspective, and an average EV adoption rate is consistent across every country (including heavy coal users such as the US and China), CO2 emissions will go way down.

        I'm basing that solely on my own reasoning, but it would be interesting to see what numbers would actually come up.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I know. I am just saying, calling them critics, while politically correct, is too nice. They aren't criticizing, they are blowing hot air.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I know calling most people who are anti-EV, critics are a long stretch. Hardly the fault of the fault of the article writer though. A 90% reduction in CO2 is a great step forward, how does it fare on other things like SO2 and CO?
        • 5 Years Ago
        It's also important to look at the changes going on in electricity provision, electricity in some cases might be fairly carbon intensive today but is likely to be reduced in the future with increased contribution from wind, solar and a possible nuclear revival.

        In contrast to this as we pass peak oil (arguably already have) non conventional oils (shale, tar sands) will have higher carbon footprints than todays oil production.

        I think big things will come from combining greenhouse hydroponics with power stations, all that 'waste' heat and CO2 would grow a lot of food.
      • 5 Years Ago
      It's also important to note that we don't import coal, helping us to get off foreign oil dependence. While I am not a proponent of using any form of fossil fuel (especially when many alternatives are at parity cost), not having to subsidize our energy to keep prices artificially low is another benefit of converting transportation over to EVs. Plus, refining fuel takes a lot of electricity, which could instead be powering EVs directly. Also many people have pointed out in the past, coal powerplants run continuous, and at night their capacity is basically wasted. Allowing EVs to charge overnight using this normally dumped energy is another step to greater energy independence.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Capturing the CO2 has been possible for decades, perhaps even centuries. I remember my high school chemistry teacher demonstrating capturing CO2 from his breath by blowing through a drinking straw into a beaker of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) over 25 years ago. This is not new technology people! This is the coal industry tricking you into believing they can burn coal without causing environmental damage. They want the US to commit to building a new generation of coal burning power plants, and then when the plants are built, and the money is spent, they will turn around and say "CCS is too expensive, it's not economically viable, we're just going to have to burn coal without CCS". Once you've spent the money, it's too late to change your mind.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Simply because we know the scientific theory behind a process is not the same as applying it on an industrial scale. We know, theoretically, how to create and contain nuclear fusion - yet the first reactor that is planned to generate more power in than out won't be operational until at least 2018, and it is likely to be 2050 before the technology is commercialized.

        I don't think the coal industry will try and run CCS plants without the technology operating (if that's even possible in a plant that is integrally designed to do it in the first place), but I do think that building new coal plants that incorporate CCS is a foolish idea in the first place. The economics of renewables are beginning to approach that of coal even now, and with a 30% increase in price for CCS, the technology is pretty much a non-starter.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Being able to remove 90% of the CO2 is not the same as reducing current CO2 emissions by 90%.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Please explain. Why not?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Most of what I've read suggest that the energy required for CCS amounts to something like 30% of the energy output of the coal, which of course means that only ~2/3 is available to sell. If GREATER infrastructure and MORE jobs must be supported on on 2/3 of the revenue, then the price of what they sell must be increased by more than 50%.

        This will make coal a non-starter.
        • 5 Years Ago
        How much energy is wasted by chilling the ammonia?

        High sulfur coal + steam = surfuric acid which causes stress cracking in metal pipes under pressure. Thousands die each year of ammonia leaks so what happens if the ammonia leaks?
        • 5 Years Ago
        It assumes there's no current attempt to reduce CO2 emissions. They're not starting with where we are, but with a worst case scenario. It's a good thing, but not what the headline would lead you to believe.
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