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Schwarze Pumpe Hits a Bump

Vattenfall's coal-fired oxyfuel pilot plant is still venting its CO2

1 min read

Local concerns about the safety of carbon sequestration are blocking European power giant Vattenfall's plan to close the loop on greenhouse gas emissions from its coal-fired carbon capture and storage (CCS) pilot plant in Schwarze Pumpe, Germany. The 'oxyfuel' plant has been burning coal in pure oxygen since starting up last fall, making its CO2 exhaust easy to capture. But burial of the CO2, set to begin this spring, is now on hold according to the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper. Staffan Gortz, Vattenfall's CCS spokesperson, told the paper that, "people are very, very skeptical."

This is a point I've been stressing of late. My feature story Germany's Green Energy Gap in the July issue of Spectrum ends with the anxieties of Brunsbüttel resident  Stephan Klose, who raises the specter of sequestered CO2 from coal plants escaping to the surface and causing mass asphyxiation. "If there’s a leak and you have a 1- to 2-meter-high level of CO2 , every animal, every human being within this zone will die,” says Klose.

And my Data page Where Europe Buries Carbon in this month's issue of Spectrum highlights both the extent of the European Union's carbon capture plans and the public acceptance challenge they face. "The EU must ... convince a wary public that buried CO2 will stay buried for good, protecting the densely populated communities above it," is how we put it.

But a mea culpa is in order: I underestimated the vehemency and immediacy of those concerns. The Data page shows Vattenfall's chosen sequestration site in central Germany as green or "operating". Alas even this relatively small-scale CO2 injection -- over an order of magnitude smaller than the CO2 volume that a full-scale coal power plant generates -- appears to be on hold until at least next spring.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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