Advanced science.  Applied technology.


SwRI receives $764,000 in ARPA-E funding to design zero-emission power plant

August 5, 2020 — Southwest Research Institute has been awarded $764,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) 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 12 teams that received a competitive award to conduct Phase 1 of ARPA-E’s FLExible Carbon Capture and Storage (FLECCS) program. FLECCS supports research to develop enabling technologies that better respond to grid conditions in a highly variable renewable energy environment, such as natural gas power generators. At the conclusion of Phase 1, a sub-set of teams will advance to Phase 2 of the program, receiving additional funding to focus on building components, unit operations and prototype systems.

“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.

During Phase 1, Moore and his engineering team will collaborate with Air Liquide, 8 Rivers Capital LLC and SoftinWay Inc. to design, model and optimize plans for the innovative new zero-emission power plant.

The proposed plant uses a direct-fired sCO2 power cycle, which utilizes 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.

Because ASU could easily devour up to 15% of the plant’s output, Moore devised a way to use renewable energy to solve this issue.

“One of the downsides of renewables like solar and wind is that their output varies widely over the course of a day,” he said. “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.”

Moore and his 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, a carbon capture system allows the CO2 produced 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.”

For more information, visit Advanced Power Systems or contact Joanna Carver, +1 210 522 2073, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166.