CO2 Emissions

Published on July 14th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer


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

July 14th, 2010 by  

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.

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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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

  • Carol

    It has been tried before and the results were never divulged because the costs were substantive.

    If the problem with Carbon Dioxide is that simple then simply cooling the exhaust (pollution and all) and using it to supply the basic carbon dioxide to grow biomass using the nutrients as a source to augment the growth would be easier. This is exactly what the Argentineans and Israeli Engineers are doing with the developments of farmed macro algae in shallow lagoons in Buenos Aeries and Ashkelon.

    The art of these developments is to store the carbon dioxide in the biomass for as short a period of time as possible (four weeks) harvest the algae and then reduce the biomass to biofuels.

    Since the biomass is over 85% cellulose and around 10% hemicellulose – with the remainder being useful chemicals – and the yield of biomass from the 10 harvests per year is equivalent to between 25 and 30 times that of producing ethanol from sugar cane and the system uses salt/brackish water (typical of a power station cooling basin) or it can use clean water.

    It is also a matter of an add-on facility that will work at low temperatures using pretty basic engineering technology based on traditional waste-water expertise (with a small add-on) and the use of hybrid macro algae that have been selected through traditional breeding (no GM mods here.)

    In the examples I have seen discussed and understand for pricing the returns on investment are likely to exceed 40% and move to a positive cash flow after paying off total debt and borrowing within 5 years. To me this sounds far better than this system highlighted here – or am I missing something?

  • At CryoGas International, we report on the markets for carbon dioxide including dry ice.

    What happens to the dry ice in this process? Where does it go?

    Agnes Baker

    Editor, CryoGas International

  • david

    If it cuts costs, sounds good to me!!

  • Fixed. (I hate a capital in the middle of an acronym, and always avoid it, but, you’re right. Existence trumps aesthetics)

  • Theo

    Please change your header title from KWH to kW·h or kW h as KWH doesn’t exist. Thanks.

  • This information is excellent and very informative.

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