Department of Justice opens investigation into failed carbon-capture plant

Cranes stand at the construction site for Southern Co.'s Kemper County power plant near Meridian, Miss., on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014.

Enlarge / Cranes stand at the construction site for Southern Co.’s Kemper County power plant near Meridian, Miss., on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (credit: Gary Tramontina/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Southern’s most recent financial statement (PDF).

The Mississippi-based facility had received $387 million in federal grants to build a state-of-the-art coal gasification and carbon-capture power plant (otherwise known as an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, or IGCC, plant). But in 2017, Southern’s subsidiary, Mississippi Power, decided to scrap the cutting-edge tech and only use the power plant to burn cheaper natural gas, in a major blow to the proponents of carbon capture.

Bad timing

Kemper was a complicated project. It was located near a lignite coal mine, which was intended to serve Kemper exclusively. Lignite is a low-grade coal compared to the anthracite and bituminous coal that’s found in Wyoming and Montana, so Kemper planned to synthetically transform the plentiful local coal to gas. The plant would then burn the syngas in a turbine, strip the carbon dioxide (CO2) from the power plant’s flue, and send that CO2 through a pipeline to an oilfield where it would be used for enhanced oil recovery. (That is, CO2 is forced down into an oil well to increase the pressure of the well so more oil can be recovered.)

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Company that sucks CO2 from air announces a new methane-producing plant

Giant intake pipes for air capture

Enlarge / Air capture at Climeworks’ Troia, Italy, plant. (credit: Climeworks)

delivered 4,000 gallons of jet fuel made from steel-plant waste gases to Virgin Atlantic. Now, Swiss company Climeworks has announced the opening of a new plant in Italy that will collect carbon dioxide (CO2) from ambient air and pair it with renewably made hydrogen (H2) to make methane fuel that would add little or no COto the atmosphere.

The plant in Troia, Italy, was completed in July and went into operation this week as part of a research program funded by the European Union.

This will be Climeworks’ third carbon-capture plant. The first captured carbon out of ambient air using a filter of base amines that would bind with more acidic CO2. The captured carbon was sent to a greenhouse to speed plant growth. The second was based in Iceland at a geothermal plant that released some volcanic CO2. Climeworks’ small plant captures that carbon and injects it back into the ground, where mineral reactions help the CO2 bind with basalt, essentially storing the gas as a rock.

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