City Water, Light & Power in the running to host DOE CO2 capture project

City Water, Light & Power (CWLP), the public power utility of Springfield, Ill., could host one of the biggest carbon dioxide capture research projects in the world, depending on the outcome of a Department of Energy (DOE) grant.

The $45 million DOE grant would be used for the third phase of a project designed to test and demonstrate the feasibility of capturing carbon dioxide from a power plant at commercial scale under the DOE’s Large Scale Pilot Fossil Fuel program. The separation unit would capture CO2 to test commercial feasibility and then release the CO2 into the atmosphere.

About 30 companies responded to the DOE grant offering and about five are now on the shortlist, including the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois and the university’s partner, Linde-BASF. Linde and BASF teamed up to participate in the project. Linde would design the CO2 separation unit, and BASF would provide the chemicals needed to separate CO2 from the plant’s flue gas stream.

Phase three involves construction of the CO2 capture unit. The first phase of the DOE program studied the feasibility of the CO2 separation concept. Phase two involved a detailed engineering proposal for a CO2 separation unit.

If the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center team wins the grant – final applications are due January 2021 -- the CO2 separation unit would be built at CWLP’s 200-megawatt (MW) Dallman Unit 4 coal-fired plant in Springfield. Dallman unit 4 includes state-of-the -art air emission control technology making the facility one of the cleanest coal-fire generating unit in the nation.

If the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center team wins the grant, they would also be eligible for an additional $20 million funding match from the state of Illinois.

Three other coal units at the Dallman plant are being decommissioned over the next few years, leaving the 200-MW unit four to host the CO2 separation unit. Only 10 MW of Unit 4’s output would be used to test the separation unit. It would still be far larger than the 1.5-MW CO2 capture unit at the DOE’s National Carbon Capture Center in Wilsonville, Ala.

Final applications for the DOE grant are due in January and awards will be made in April with construction slated to begin in June with steel in the ground by June 2022, Kevin O’Brien, director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, said.

“The whole idea is it would be the largest research pilot in the world,” O’Brien said. “We would hope it would attract more researchers to do more work,” including parties interested in having a stream of CO2 at commercial scale to test the feasibility of technologies that could either sequester or make use of the captured CO2.”

The City of Springfield’s electric department was “very open with us,” O’Brien said. “They shared the details of the plant with us” and having worked on projects with the utility in the past, O’Brien said the university found them a good research partner and “very interested in things that are good for the environment.”

If the project comes to fruition, there would be no costs for the city.

“We see it as a value project for the energy industry as a whole,” Doug Brown, chief utility engineer for CWLP, said. “When you are looking at trying to maintain flexibility among different types of power resources … having a varied number of options is definitely better.”

“We feel carbon restrictions will come eventually,” Brown said. Making coal-fired generation more viable by being able to remove CO2 from a coal plant’s emission profile would add to the available resources from which a utility could choose. “It is protecting yourself against risk,” Brown said.

Brown pointed out that the CO2 capture project would only use 10 MW worth of the plant’s flue gases. CWLP would still purchase coal and produce electric power from the plant and would be compensated for any loss of ancillary services from use of the 10 MW, he said. In addition, the project would bring some economic benefits to Springfield by creating construction jobs and by attracting people globally to study and conduct research at the CO2 capture project.

The only operating, commercial CO2 capture and sequestration plant in the United States is NRG Energy’s Petra Nova plant in Texas, which captures 240 MW of CO2 from NRG’s W.A. Parish plant and pipes it to an oil field where it is used for enhanced oil recovery.

Illinois was almost home for a past DOE carbon capture and sequestration project. The FutureGen project would have captured and sequestered CO2, but at around $1 billion the project proved to be too costly and ambitious and eventually was cancelled.

Another project in Illinois, Prairie State Generating Company, has embarked on a carbon capture and sequestration study. In September 2019, Prairie State was selected as the site of a $15 million Department of Energy (DOE) front-end engineering and design (FEED) study. The purpose of the FEED study is to complete preliminary engineering and design work to support developing a detailed cost estimate for the cost of retrofitting CO2 capture at Prairie State. Prairie State’s owners are investing $3.75 million in cost-share for the project to produce a shovel-ready FEED study on one of the 816 MW coal-fired power units.

Prairie State has partnered with the University of Illinois’ Sustainable Technology Center, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kiewit Corporation, and Sargent and Lundy for this study. Project partners will perform multiple feasibility and design studies based on project-specific details in preparation for developing engineering deliverables.

Prairie State is wholly owned by nine not-for-profit public power entities and rural electric cooperatives, serving 2.5 million families across eight states.