Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Clean Coal - is it for real ?

During the IEEE Conference in Regina we were given a tour to the Boundary Dam Power Plant - the first in the world coal-fired plant which has actually started implementing the much talked about "carbon-capture" technology.

Most of us, even those who are called electrical engineers, let alone those work at universities, have never been to an electrical power plant before.  We were impressed by the size of everything there. 


It was interesting to see the control rooms - they reminded me space flight control centres I have seen back in the USSR ...

Most of the technology is from the 60s.

Not as bad considering air traffic controllers until recently have been using technology from 30-s (and many of them still do). 

Traditionally, they used coal mined in the neighboring areas (which for the last hundred years had to be moved further and further - currently about 50 km away from the power plant). The coal is delivered by trucks to the plant, crushed and ground in several stages until it is converted into a fine powder. The powder is mixed with the air and forced into the furnace where it is ignited in creates a fireball. The furnace is surrounded with pipes carrying water, which is being heated to the steam at 2000 psi and 1005 degrees. Steam pushes turbines, which drive generators.  This is how it has done for more than a hundred years and this is how it is still done.

But then there is something else. The product of coal burning has been always thrown into the air.

But now they are doing quite interesting stuff. They retired the oldest (1959) and least efficient unit. The second oldest unit will be retired next year. Finally the 3rd unit is being refurbished and connected to the first in the world actual carbon-capture facility.  

This is the carbon-capture facility at Boundary Dam close to be competed. The facility will also remove sulfur dioxide and mercury out of exhaust. What is interesting about this proposition, is that the captured CO2 is going to be collected and SOLD for profit (it is used commercially for improving efficiency of oil extraction). This opportunity made a real difference and created a business case - no government subsidies - which would not happen otherwise. Sulfur is also used to produce commercial sulfur acid.

I am not a big fan of fossil fuel-based energy, but I cannot disagree that they implemented a true system approach in the face of a serious challenge.

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