Scrubbing technologies for removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from power plant flue gases are at least ten years away from becoming commercially viable, according to a new report from information analysis firm IHS.

In a side-by-side comparison of the most promising technologies for advanced carbon capture from coal fired power plants, IHS analysis indicates that the technologies remain costly in spite of recent improvements and pilot demonstration programmes.

“The scrubbing technologies currently moving through demonstration are very expensive and it’s hard to see how to significantly bring down their cost,” said Michael Arné, senior analyst at IHS. “There are some promising new approaches on the drawing board, but they are at least ten years away.”

The report also highlights other factors that are hindering development of carbon capture, including low natural gas prices and uncertainty surrounding climate change legislation. These challenges put carbon capture technologies at a “disadvantage”, according to IHS CERA senior director Robert LaCount, and need to be overcome in order to counteract the environmental impact of using coal as a source of fuel in power stations, says IHS.

Advanced oxy-combustion has the potential for the lowest costs of any of the technologies examined, the study notes. The use of corrosion-resistant boiler tubes to eliminate the need for desulphurization in the flue-gas recycle loop has the potential to cut CO2 costs significantly, and has the added appeal of mitigating sulphur emissions in a “two for the price of one” remediation scheme.

“Advanced oxy-combustion, if used in conjunction with an ion-transport membrane instead of cryogenic air separation, could drive down costs even further, but such technology is still years away,” said Arné.

Coal-fired generation accounts for 40 per cent of the 20 000 TWh of electricity generated worldwide but for three-quarters of all the CO2 emitted by the global power sector, according to IHS.

“It is clear that coal is currently a crucial fuel source, and at the same time, it bears a huge responsibility for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” said LaCount. “If the often mentioned 80 per cent GHG reduction target is to be met by mid-century, CO2 from coal-fired generation will have to be captured and stored.”