Poland hopes to carbon capture the imagination

By bne IntelliNews February 11, 2010

Bogdan Turek in Warsaw -

The adage "necessity is the mother of invention" is playing out in Poland's energy sector. The EU directive on reducing carbon dioxide emissions 20% by 2020 has triggered the development of new carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, which have, if the government is to be believed, the potential to become a "Polish Nokia."

The capturing and storage of carbon emitted by power stations is a technology that will probably be indispensible to attempts to prevent climate change. According to the International Energy Agency, it could provide a fifth of the CO2 emissions cuts the world needs to make by 2050. This would be ideal for countries like Poland that use a lot of coal, but unlike many other low-carbon technologies, for instance nuclear, the idea remains untested. "We are motivated by the fact that our energy sector is 95% dependent on coal," says Henryk Jezierski, a deputy environment minister and Poland's chief geologist. "We can be a leader in the employment of CCS technologies, which may become a 'Polish Nokia'."

Noting that Poland's dependence on coal is far greater than any of the other 26 EU countries, Jezierski says simply, "We have to do it."

Coal bedrock

The Polish government-approved energy programme through 2030 openly states that coal will remain a pillar of the sector, but calls for its modernization and the application of environmental-friendly technologies.

CCS systems have received implementation approval in several EU states. The European Commission plans to spend about €4bn for the first 10 or 12 projects, which are scheduled to be operating by 2015. If the experimental programmes are a success, they will be implemented on a commercial basis.

The Polish Belchatow electricity generator in central Poland, the largest lignite-powered plant in Europe, has already got financial backing of €180m from the Commission. The overall cost of the project is to be €625m. Another CCS system is a zero-emissions project in Kedzierzyn, where both underground gasification of coal and CCS is to be used for the electricity-generating plant. Kedzierzyn got a favourable rating from Commission experts during a demonstration project in 2009.

Although other EU countries are experimenting with CCS, Polish technologies are believed to be the most innovative. Jacek Kaczorowski, CEO of Belchatow, says that CO2 was stored underground by Norway in the North Sea to push out oil, but it was never dissolved, which can be done using a special method. He explains that the CO2 generated by the Belachtow complex will be captured by a special reactor, which will then convert it into liquid. It will be shipped by pipeline to a storage area deep underground where it will be dissolved in salty water deposits. "Such a pioneering system is a chance for Poland," says Kaczorowski.

Critics argue that CCS is "expensive and uneconomic," especially for an unproven technology during a time when money is in short supply due to the crisis. The Polish Ministry of Economy estimates that the capture of one tonne of carbon could cost €60 and the cost of the production of 1 megawatt/hour may grow by 20%. Jacek Melich, spokesperson for Belchatow, insists the company is aware of the financial risk of the project. "But I believe the Polish technology may become an icon of innovation like the Finnish Nokia," Melich says, parroting Jezierski's catchphrase. "He who does not try will not have such technology."

According to Melich, the experimental CCS system will pump the emissions underground from a turbine with a capacity of 830 MW. It will cut emissions of the Belchatow plant by 100,000 tonnes per year (t/y) in 2015 and 2m t/y by 2020. "The first test installation may not be profitable, but the next ones, used on a commercial scale, will be," he claims.

Experts warn that the EU will simply fail to meet its CO2 reduction targets without developing CCS. "Without the CCS technology, Poland will not be able to fulfil its obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the EU's energy and climate package," argues Agata Hinc from Demos Europa-the Centre for European Strategy, an independent group of experts who prepare analyses for the EU. "Therefore, it is necessary that CCS technology becomes a reality in Poland as quickly as possible."

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