Rocket Science to Cut Smokestack CO2 for 13 Cents per kWh Coal

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A technology described as “radically different” by ARPA-E’s director Arun Majumdar has just received $1 million in research funding by the Advanced Research Projects Agency’s energy division to deliver us from airborne smokestack carbon emissions.

An academic energy consulting organization, ACENT Laboratories of New York, and aerospace giant ATK, which builds the space shuttles’ booster rockets, are collaborating on the research.


The idea is to use high speed aerodynamic force, rather than chemicals, to separate out carbon dioxide from a power plant’s smokestack, by turning it from a gas into a frozen form; dry ice. Chip in a few dollars a month to help support independent cleantech coverage that helps to accelerate the cleantech revolution!

When rockets accelerate air to very high speeds, it can condense any water vapor in the air into water or snow. Gases such as carbon dioxide also turn into solids under this pressure. By greatly accelerating the exhaust – including any carbon dioxide in the mix – from smokestacks – so that it expands and cools, dry ice should form.

Current carbon capture technology would nearly double the cost of coal, if employed. This alternative technique would make it much cheaper, if it works. It would employ simple, known technology now used in rocket nozzles. We know the cost of that technology.

It would add 30% to the current cost per kilowatt hour of existing coal power stations, typically estimated at 4 cents. New coal plants without carbon capture and storage, although extremely few, are running at more like double that.

One of the few built, Peabody’s Prairie State coal plant went from an estimated $2.9 billion in 2007, to $4.4 billion now, to build a 1,600 megawatt plant.

Due to the cost overruns, Centralia Electric Utility finds that instead of  the 3 cents it expected to pay, it will be paying 7.5 cents to buy power. So if they spent an additional 30% to retrieve the carbon dioxide as dry ice, and add in the 3.2 cents a kilowatt hour in the well documented external health costs of coal, and you’ve got a 13 cent dirty energy source.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

Image: Dark Roasted Blend

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