New York State Gets Behind Oxyfuel Carbon Capture

In a somewhat startling development, New York's governor David Paterson announced on June 10 that the state will support construction of an experimental "oxyfired" electric generation plant, in which coal will be burned in an atmosphere of almost pure oxygen, so that nitrogen emissions are eliminated and carbon capture simplified. Sweden's Vattenfall and France's Alstom are completing a similar demonstration plant in eastern Germany, as described in the "winners & losers" January issue of Spectrum, and Babcock & Wilcox has had a serious oxyfuel R&D program in the United States. But oxyfuel has not been the mainstream approach to carbon capture on this side of the Atlantic, and New York's Jamestown plant--if built--may be the world's first quasi-commercial demonstration of the technology.

Earlier this year, the U.S. energy department cancelled support for Future Gen, a public-private IGCC plant, in which coal is gasified, yielding a post-combustion mixture of carbon dioxide and hydrogen. That had been the overwhelmingly dominant approach to carbon capture in the United States. With FutureGen and IGCC facing increasingly uncertain prospects, the door appears to opening for alternative paths to carbon capture such as oxyfuel--though Spectrum bloggers have had radically different takes on the implications.

The Jamestown project, located in western New York's Chautauqua County, emerged from an industrial alliance of Praxair and Foster Wheeler with Dresser-Rand, E&E, Battelle, SUNY Buffalo, and AES. Praxair, a leading supplier of industrial gases, would provide both the oxygen supply and carbon capture technologies, while Foster Wheeler would build the fluidized-bed stream generators. New York State will invest up to $6 million to support development of the project, which could end up costing hundreds of millions of dollars to complete.

The governor's rather daring decision to put the state behind the project is all the more striking because Paterson only recently assumed the top job in the wake of a sex scandal that toppled his predecessor. His announcement this week drew praise from unions such as brotherhood of electrical workers and the boilermakers but criticism from environmental and public interest groups such as NYPIRG, Sierra Club, and the American Lung Association. They declared it premature, given that environmental reviews are not yet complete.

Whether or not the plant is ultimately built and succeeds, the decision to pursue it puts New York into a league with countries like Sweden that are moving aggressively to test carbon capture and storage technology. Already, as the governor's office reminded its constituents this week, New York is the most important member of the northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which has been developing this country's first cap-and-trade system for carbon, and it has adopted a renewables portfolio standard that seeks to make 25 percent of the state's electricity green by 2013. Its "15 by 15" initiative aims to cut energy usage, by 2015, 15 percent below business-as-usual projections.


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