The race to establish carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology on a commercial scale stepped up a gear yesterday when RWE npower said that it would develop the UK’s first CO2 capture pilot plant. The announcement came as the UK government published refined criteria for its upcoming CCS demonstration competition.

RWE npower says it will design and build a pilot carbon dioxide capture plant at Aberthaw power station in South Wales and will submit plans for a larger CCS demonstrator plant to the government’s competition, which will be formally launched in November.

The government said yesterday that its upcoming competition should demonstrate post-combustion CCS on a coal-fired power station, with CO2 stored offshore. The full CCS chain should be demonstrated by 2014 on 300 MW of capacity.

“Finding cost-effective ways of using fossil fuels more cleanly is vital in meeting the twin challenges of climate change and energy security,” said John Hutton, Secretary of State for Business and Enterprise. “Coal is abundant in the world but it is dirty. I am today committing the UK government to backing the construction within seven years of one of the world’s first commercial-scale coal-fired CCS projects.”

RWE npower will make an initial investment of £8.4 million to develop a 1 MW capture plant at Aberthaw by 2010. It will then aim to develop a CCS demonstrator plant with a capacity of at least 25 MW by 2014.

The pilot plant puts RWE npower in pole position for the government’s upcoming competition, according to the company. The pilot plant will enable it to develop a full understanding of the technical and commercial issues relating to CCS and test the technology in as close to real operational conditions as possible.

Last week RWE Power announced an agreement with BASF and The Linde Group to develop new processes for CO2 capture from combustion gases in coal-fired power plants. Under the agreement, the companies will build a pilot facility at the Niederaussem power plant in Germany to test new CO2 scrubbing solvents.

RWE npower says the larger CCS demonstration plant will form part of a new supercritical power plant, which is currently under feasibility and planning and which will be built at either Tilbury or Blyth power station.

In March 2007 the government outlined plans to launch a competition to support the construction of a CCS demonstration plant in the UK. The competition is designed to help put the UK at the forefront of CCS technology development.

“Our analysis shows that post-combustion capture is the most relevant technology to the vast proportion of coal-fired generation capacity globally. A commercial-scale demonstration of this technology, as part of a full CCS chain, opens up huge possibilities, not just for Britain but also for the world,” said Hutton.

He continued: “It has the potential to remove and safely store up to 90 per cent of damaging CO2 emissions. The capture technology can also be retro-fitted to existing coal-fired plants.

“By 2030, wider deployment could see up to a third of Britain’s electricity generated in this way and UK exporters of CCS technology and expertise cornering business worth many billions in a global market.”