Over the past 20 years, nearly three-fourths of human-caused emissions came from the burning of fossil fuels. This statistic is a reminder that we must invest in more sustainable sources of energy and use our energy resources as efficiently as possible. One way we’re doing this is by driving innovation in the renewable energy sector. The other way is by improving the energy sources we are already using.
As the largest domestically-produced source of energy here in the U.S., coal is used to generate about half of our nation’s electricity. So how can we make traditional energy sources like coal cleaner and safer for all Americans?
Enter carbon capture utilization and storage, or CCUS -- a process that focuses on capturing CO2 emissions from sources such as coal-fired power plants and either reusing it or storing it so it will not enter the atmosphere. The commercial success of CCUS depends on developing more affordable technologies, since the cost of capturing CO2 from power plants is currently too high for wide-scale implementation.
One way we’re addressing this is through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) IMPACCT program (which stands for Innovative Materials and Processes for Advanced Carbon Capture Technologies). Through the program, 15 high-impact projects are pushing the boundaries of carbon capture to lower the cost of capturing CO2 from coal-fired power plants already in use.
One of these projects is an “inertial CO2 extraction system” (known as ICES) that’s being developed by Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and partner ACENT Laboratories. This technology, based on rocket nozzle and wind tunnel applications, compresses the gas from power plant emissions and freezes the CO2, which is then separated. ICES swirls the separated particles into a "supersonic cyclone," and the CO2 is captured and collected as dry ice and processed using a self-pressurized system that uses excess waste heat from the power plant.
According to Dr. Anthony Castrogiovanni, President and CEO of ACENT, the ICES technology aims to lower the electricity premium for CO2 capture from approximately 81 percent to 35 percent. Additionally, the technology is easier to implement and scale up to the large sizes needed to capture CO2 from a power plant.
The ATK/ACENT team is currently in the discussion stages of commercialization. “We have several ongoing dialogs with prospective partners, including major international gas and energy companies,” says Dr. Castrogiovanni. The team plans to be in the pilot-scale testing and application phase within the next year.
To get up close and personal with the researchers of this and other IMPACCT projects that are changing the way we produce energy, visit the Technology Showcase at the 2012 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit outside Washington, DC from February 27-29.