What would it take to turn CO2 gas into a carbonate solid? According to Mark Clayton, VP of Corporate Relations for Austin based Skyonic, the process could be commercially viable in a few years.
|What if fossil fuel had zero emissions?
“Our rough numbers show that with the costs of the chemicals we use and the value of the byproducts, chlorine and hydrogen, the process can almost pay for itself financially,” said Clayton.
Apparently officials at Luminant, one of the biggest power generators in the United States, are in agreement, since they have invested in Skyonic and are working with them to build a demonstration plant. “We want a full scale design by the end of 2008, so we can break ground in 2009 and be operating two years after that,” said Clayton.
According to the EIA, the USA produces about 240 gigawatt-years of power from coal each year; just a little over 50% of all electric power in the USA comes from coal fired power plants. To do this, we mine about 1.1 billion tons of coal each year, and coal fired power plants release about 2.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions each year. So what would happen if 100% of these emissions were turned into sodium bicarbonate using Skyonic’s technology?
As it turns out, the process would require massive inputs of salt – which is a cheap and abundant material – and applying Skyonic’s process would exchange 2.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions for about 3.2 billion tons of sodium bicarbonate. As we note in our post “Plasco’s Waste to Energy,” as well as “Ze-gen’s Waste to Energy,” all municipal solid waste in the USA each year only totals 220 million tons, and all construction debris only adds another 100 million tons. For that matter, as we report in “Astec’s Green Asphalt,” the total volume of rock quarried in the USA each year is only about 3.0 billion tons – a staggering amount – but less than the volume of sodium bicarbonate we would produce if we converted 100% of these CO2 emissions from coal into a solid.
On the other hand, coal plants are becoming more efficient every day, there are other ways to utilize the CO2 – such as to nourish factory farmed algae for biofuel, and we probably aren’t going to eliminate 100% of these emissions right away, anyway. As Clayton pointed out, sodium bicarbonate is a fairly innocuous, non-toxic material, and there is capacity inside the coal mines to refill them with the carbonate waste to replace the coal that was removed. There may be other uses for the carbonate – Clayton noted there may be potential to use carbonate in cement, for example.
And as always, there are other technologies to scrub CO2 from coal fired power plant emissions – yet another scheme was reported today by Cleantech.com in their report “Carbon capture gets crystal powered.”
What is potentially most interesting about Skyonic’s technology is that it may have a relatively low cost – Clayton stated this process may actually be economically viable even without dependance on CO2 offset funding. In any case, capturing CO2 as a solid may be more sustainable than attempting to pressurize every underground cavern ever found. Like many solutions to environmental challenges, conversion of CO2 emissions into inert solid matter may be one of an assortment of remedies that in combination provide a comprehensive solution.