Last month, construction of the Callide Oxyfuel Project in Queensland, Australia, was completed and the project moved into demonstration phase.1 This groundbreaking venture aims to demonstrate the commercial viability of carbon capture and storage (CCS) using oxyfuel technology, which involves firing a conventional coal-fired power plant boiler with oxygen and recycled exhaust gases, rather than regular air.
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This produces a concentrated stream of CO2, which can be compressed, transported and stored – potentially as part of enhanced oil or coalbed methane recovery.
The Callide project is one of the few CCS demonstration projects to make it past the drawing board. It has the potential to play a key role in proving the viability of CCS technology not just on new coal-fired plants, but as a retrofit to existing coal-fired power plants. The Callide A power plant – the site of the demonstration project – is nothing special: commissioned in 1965 it is similar to the older, conventional coal-fired power plants that still provide much of the world’s power (and much of the world’s CO2 emissions). As Dr Chris Spero, project director, comments: “Success at Callide will demonstrate to the world that existing coal-fired power plants do not have to be dismantled and rebuilt to reduce global warming. New technology can be applied to existing power plants to reduce global warming.”
Importantly, the Callide project has shown that the coal industry is willing and able to work with government and other interested parties to mitigate global emissions. The project is partly funded by an AU$ 67.9 million commitment by the Australian coal industry’s COAL21 Fund, with an additional AU$ 9 million to follow to help extend the demonstration phase into 2014. The project itself is a joint venture between CS Energy, the Australian Coal Association Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund, Xstrata Coal, Schlumberger, J-POWER, Mitsui & Co. Ltd and IHI Corp.
Callide is a good news story. The development and deployment of CCS would be a game-changer, able to deliver the 20% emissions reductions required to stabilise CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and avoid the worst impacts of climate change by 2050. It is encouraging to see the progress in Queensland and to see what can be done when industry and government work constructively together. But one success story is not enough. All to often, the debate is still couched as a simplistic choice between “good” and “bad” fuels. This fatuous grandstanding serves no-one in the long term. Surely it is time to accept that there is no magic bullet to solve the conjoined riddles of climate change and energy access. A full suite of solutions is required. Callide points us in that direction: let us hope more follow in its footsteps.
1. “Media Release: Coal industry welcomes Callide Oxyfuel Demonstration Project” (Australian Coal Association; 15 December 2012). Available at: http://www.australiancoal.com.au/latest-news-feed/140-15-december-2012-coal-industry-welcomes-callide-oxyfuel-project.html. More information on the project can be found at: http://www.callideoxyfuel.com.