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Hatfield gets green light from EU

Paul Hudson | 13:11 UK time, Thursday, 19 November 2009

The BBC has learned that on Saturday the European Union will officially endorse the proposed carbon capture power station at Hatfield near Doncaster, to be built alongside the existing colliery, with a grant of 180 million Euros.

If all goes to plan, construction could begin next Spring, with a completion date in the middle of 2012. But this doesn't mean that coal will be used to generate electricity straight away.

The power station will in fact be gas fired, connected to the natural gas grid and capable of generating 900MW of electricity. The power station will have a 'carbon capture' kit fitted to it, and be able to switch from natural gas to hydrogen, captured from coal, provided by the Hatfield colliery next door, when the issue of carbon dioxide storage is resolved. The plant will also be able to produce excess hydrogen gas over and above what would be needed to produce electricity, to be used as green fuel for a new generation of cars, buses and lorries.

The science of carbon capture on the face of it seems simple. The idea is to split the hydrogen from coal, use it as the fuel, and capture the carbon dioxide at the same time. The carbon dioxide would be liquefied under high pressure, pumped down a pipeline through the Humber and into disused gas fields to be stored.

The long term plan would to connect all heavy carbon polluters to this pipeline, such as Ferrybridge and High Eggborough power stations, and the Corus steel works in Scunthorpe. But the pipeline itself will cost billions, if it gets the go ahead. And green activists worry that storing carbon dioxide underground is not safe or proven. They also argue there are other pollutants that are released into the atmosphere from burning coal that the new plant won't capture, damaging the environment.

The Hatfield announcement comes hot off the heels of a trial proposed by Scottish and Southern energy last week to fit carbon capture technology to Ferrybridge power station near Castleford. The reasoning behind this is simple.

All existing coal fired power stations are coming under increasing pressure to lower their carbon emissions because of the UK government's legally binding targets. This can be done in a number of ways. Firstly more efficient turbines can be fitted which would produce more electricity by burning less coal. Secondly sustainable bio-mass such as willow or straw can be used alongside coal as the fuel. Thirdly, emissions can be captured and stored. Alternatively, the power station would have to buy the right to pollute by way of carbon credits. The idea is that this would hit the profitability of the power plant, forcing them to invest in cleaner power generation. But all new coal fired power stations would have to have Carbon capture technology fitted as standard.

There are benefits to be had from carbon capture technology, not only from a reduction in greenhouse gases, but for energy security. There are still massive coal deposits under our region, and carbon capture technology opens up the prospect of utilising our own natural energy supplies, and not being reliant on foreign gas. It would also create hundreds of jobs in Yorkshire.

But there is a catch. In order to reach the government's plan to cut Carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050, most of our electricity will have to come from carbon capture, renewables and nuclear power in the future. And that means much more expensive electricity in the years to come

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