Thursday, May 05, 2016

Exxon Mobil Backs FuelCell Effort to Advance Carbon Capture Technology

A fuel cell used to capture and sequester carbon emissions, at the headquarters of FuelCell Energy in Danbury, Conn. (Credit: Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times) Click to Enlarge.
For years, FuelCell Energy has been considered a company to watch.  Its technology promised to help economically reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which could help combat climate change.  The Danbury, Conn., company might be able to make a difference, experts said, if only it had a partner with really deep pockets.

Now it has one.

In an agreement announced on Thursday, Exxon Mobil said it had tightened an existing relationship with FuelCell in hopes of taking the technology from the lab to the market.

Any commercial development is years away, warned Vijay Swarup, vice president for research and development at Exxon Mobil Research and Engineering.  But, he added, “We think it’s got the possibility to be a game changer.”
The technology — known as carbon capture and sequestration, or C.C.S.— is an important but challenging potential solution to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The goal is to take carbon dioxide, after it is removed from exhaust steam, and to lock it away by pumping it into the ground or use it in industrial applications.

Reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released by power plants could provide a bridge of sorts to the use of energy sources that do not emit greenhouse gases, said Emily A. Carter, founding director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University.

While many climate activists demand an immediate shift to renewable power sources like solar and wind, “We’re going to be burning fossil fuels for the vast majority of our electricity for some time to come, whether we like it or not,” she said.  “We desperately need C.C.S.”

Carbon capture has not yet fulfilled its promise, in large part because of the enormous amounts of energy required in conventional processes to separate carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust and to compress it.  Those processes greatly diminish the power output of the plant and raise the cost of the electricity produced.

What Exxon Mobil’s partner brings to this thorny problem is its particular class of fuel cells — devices that generate electricity through chemical reactions.

The company’s fuel cells are already used to provide clean energy in about 50 locations around the world but without a connection to fossil-fuel power plants, as envisioned in the new agreement.

The fuel cells use a high-temperature molten carbonate salt mixture.  Carbon dioxide flows into the fuel cell and emerges in a concentrated form that is ready for storage.
The company estimates that using these fuel cells with natural gas power plants could lead to a reduction of more than 90 percent in the plants’ carbon dioxide emissions, while also producing large amounts of useful hydrogen.

FuelCell Energy’s products can also strip 70 percent of the smog-producing oxides of nitrogen from the exhaust of coal-burning power plants.

Read more at Exxon Mobil Backs FuelCell Effort to Advance Carbon Capture Technology

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