Enel has hailed the official inauguration of a pilot carbon capture and storage (CCS) project as an “important step forward” in the development of future energy systems.

The Italian utility and its partner, Italian oil firm Eni, will carry out a series of tests at the facility, which will capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the flue gas of Enel’s Federico II coal-fired power plant at Brindisi, Italy. The storage element of the project is expected to start up in 2012.

“The completion of this pilot plant in Brindisi is an important step forward in the development of new technologies upon which the world’s future energy system will be built,” said Enel CEO and General Manager Fulvio Conti at the inauguration ceremony, which was also attended by EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger. “Carbon dioxide capture and sequestration will allow the further use of fossil fuels, drastically eliminating emissions of CO2.”

The pilot CCS plant – the first of its kind in Italy – uses a chemical absorption system to remove CO2 from the plant’s flue gas and is the “most mature and appropriate” technology for retrofitting existing thermal plants, says Enel. It will be able to treat 10 000 m3/h of fumes from the Federico II coal plant, separating out 2.5 metric t of CO2 per hour, up to a maximum of 8000 metric t per year.

Eni has completed the design stage for the storage site at the exhausted Stogit field at Cortemaggiore, and is waiting for final authorizations.

The tests in Brindisi will help Enel gain more experience in designing and operating post-combustion carbon capture plants, in streamlining the process and in assessing its environmental impact. The company is aiming to scale up the technology and apply it on an industrial scale at its new coal fired power plant in Porto Tolle.

This facility will treat 810 000 m3 of fumes per hour, separating up to 1 million metric t of CO2 per year. The CO2 will be stored in a saline aquifer deep below the Adriatic Sea.

The European Union granted Enel €100 million in funding from the EU economic recovery programme for its pilot project in Brindisi and for preliminary work on the Porto Tolle plant.