Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has been awarded $764,000 to develop a zero emission fossil fuel power plant that incorporates a supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) power cycle, renewable energy, oxygen storage and carbon capture.

SwRI is leading one of twelve teams that received a competitive award from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct Phase 1 of ARPA-E’s FLExible Carbon Capture and Storage (FLECCS) programme which supports research to develop enabling technologies that better respond to grid conditions 

At the conclusion of Phase 1, a sub-set of teams will advance to Phase 2 of the programme, receiving additional funding to focus on building components, unit operations and prototype systems.

During Phase 1, SwRI engineers will collaborate with Air Liquide, 8 Rivers Capital LLC and SoftinWay Inc. to design, model and optimise plans for the innovative new zero emission power plant.

The proposed plant uses a direct fired sCO2 power cycle, which utilises sCO2 instead of water as a thermal medium. Because sCO2 has both the properties of a liquid and a gas, it allows for far more efficient power generation, as well as smaller turbomachinery. This process requires an air separation unit (ASU) to provide the power cycle with pure oxygen.

“We are incorporating energy storage to allow this plant to meet energy demands while accommodating high levels of variable renewable energy on the grid,” said Dr. Jeff Moore, an SwRI Engineer Leading the Research.

“One of the downsides of renewables like solar and wind is that their output varies widely over the course of a day. For example, solar power generation peaks at noon, when the sun is directly overhead, and then slowly tapers off toward the end of the day. But around sunset, everyone comes home from work and starts using electricity.”

The team incorporated renewable energy storage into the plant design to absorb the energy to power ASU operations. They plan to store solar energy harvested from panels elsewhere when demand is low, but generation is high, to make pure liquid oxygen and use it later when needed by the plant.

Additionally, the carbon capture system allows the COproduced to be stored for other purposes instead of releasing the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. 

“The FLECCS projects will work to address critical carbon capture and storage needs in our nation’s power systems,” said ARPA-E Director Lane Genatowski.

“The FLECCS program is intended to enable the next generation of flexible, low-cost, and low-carbon electricity systems, and we are eager to work with these teams to innovate the grid of the future.”