Clean fossil energy: can Europe get it together?

8 April 2004

Thermie, EMAX, AD700, Komet 650, Cooretec, Klimatek.... These are just a few of the European research initiatives and programmes of recent years addressing development of advanced fossil power plants. Now there is an important new acronym to add to the list: FENCO.

Standing for Fossil Energy Coalition, the aim of FENCO is to lay the groundwork for a concerted Europe-wide effort to develop low and near-zero emission fossil power plants for the future. It has been formed by Germany and the United Kingdom, with initial support from Austria, Denmark, Greece, Portugal and Poland.

With EU funding of a mere h190 000 euro and a duration of one year (September 2003 to October 2004), FENCO may seem modest. But it is just the first step to what, in EU jargon, is called an ERA-NET (European Research Area - Network).

The notion of the ERA-NET was introduced in FP6, the EU's Sixth Research Framework Programme (which allocates EU R&D funding for the period 2002-2006). The idea, described by the EU as "highly innovative", is to "encourage the creation of close, long-term links between national research programmes with shared goals" and to "pool fragmented human and financial resources in order to improve both the efficiency and the effectiveness of Europe's research efforts." In other words it is a way of getting more out of the money that member states put into research. It is not a new source of funding for the research itself.

In the case of clean energy research it is hoped that the ERA-NET will develop a coherent, Europe-wide strategy that will "make possible the integration and economies of scale required to drive research towards large scale demonstrator projects and commercial exploitation of promising new technologies."

Preparatory phase

Under the EU scheme, networks that already have a sufficiently large and active transnational membership can launch the "implementation phase" of their ERA-NET, which lasts up to five years and is supported by the EU with a grant of up to h3 million towards management of the consortium. Networks which are judged to "lack this critical mass", such as in the clean fossil power case, may carry out an initial preparatory phase of up to 12 months. FENCO constitutes this initial preparatory phase.

During it the consortium is looking for additional partners and will be defining the work plan for the full ERA-NET network (called a "Co-ordination Action" in EU jargon). They will examine their national programmes to identify existing expertise and particular research interests and attempt to take stock of national and European research programmes in the field of carbon-free emissions from fossil fuels. Once the FENCO partners have completed this mapping exercise, they will look for synergies and potential for practical co-operation between the programmes – in terms of research priorities and management styles, as well as content. A proposal for the full network is to be submitted to the EC in October 2004, with a workshop planned for Berlin in June to agree scope and content.

The network is encouraging strategic partners from the full EU-25 to participate to compile the best possible overview of national research and technology strategies. This process will bring together programme makers and managers and build mutual understanding and trust – an essential element of any future ERA-NET, the EC believes.

Governmental initiative

The UK and Germany have comprehensive research programmes on future energy from fossil fuel and renewable sources but both countries have accepted that no single technology can respond to the twin pressures to increase generating capacity and to reduce emissions.

An important feature of FENCO is that it is a governmental initiative, the initial instigators being the UK's DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and Germany's BMWA (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Arbeit).

This is a point stressed by Nick Otter of Alstom who is very close to the project. He advises the DTI on it and has recently taken the chair of the newly formed DTI Advisory Committee on Carbon Abatement Technologies. He points out that there are "other programmes being run by other stakeholders in clean fossil energy that are very complementary, and designed to be so."

These include the Power 21 initiative, which is being driven by the equipment supply industry in Europe with the support of the generators. The aim of Power 21, which started in early 2003, is to “establish a framework and content for a critical mass programme in Europe addressing low emission power generation which will transform R&D results into fully economic solutions satisfying the needs of society in the context of economic competitiveness, environmental acceptability, reliability and safety.” A critical feature is deployment of the technology in a series of ‘lighthouse projects’ (= high visibility to all players including the public) of increasing complexity that are introduced in tune with the development of the market. An example of one of these types of projects could be the ultrasupercritical AD700/EMAX demonstration project for pulverised coal at commercial scale.

Others in due course could well include IGCC based plant designed to incorporate to carbon dioxide capture.

In addition to this there is strategic work being done by the "EC Thematic Networks". These include "Powerclean", on clean power generation, CAME-GT, dealing with gas turbines, and CO2Net, which is addressing carbon dioxide capture and storage.

These three networks exist to try and co-ordinate the research work being undertaken within the EC programmes and to help set the future strategy for Europe in their particular area. “This latter point makes them particularly important with respect to the FENCO initiative,” says Nick Otter, “as they allow the stakeholder views to be developed alongside those of governments and to ensure that a fully representative position can be established.”

Why support fossil energy?

Explaining its support of the FENCO exercise, the EC points out that although a shift to renewable energy sources will help to limit increases in CO2 emissions, "'green electricity' cannot supply all of Europe's future energy needs, nor keep electricity prices at competitive rates. Fossil fuel fired central power stations will continue to be the workhorses of electricity production in coming decades – but will need to be designed and operated within a carbon management strategy that promotes increased efficiency, low- or zero-emission technologies, and CO2 capture and storage." The clean use of fossil fuels will be a "critical transitional issue as we strive to achieve a fully sustainable energy future of carbon-free fossil fuel power generation," says the EC.

The EC's Sixth Research Framework Programme addressed some aspects of CO2 capture and storage. But, inexplicably in view of its apparent support for clean fossil power development – to say nothing of the importance of enhancing energy supply security – did not fund the necessary developments in material science and engineering to help take these technologies forward into commercial settings. In particular, to the surprise of its proponents, there was no funding for the continuation of the AD700 programme which is chiefly concerned with developing the nickel-based materials needed for future advanced coal plants (see panel below).

Meanwhile, the budgets of individual member states are insufficient to fund comprehensive, large-scale projects. In particular, they are unable to compete with the USA, which has recognised the potential export value of cleaner fossil fuel technologies and is making extensive investments in research and technological development, notably the Futuregen project.

The EC points out that as older power stations are decommissioned and Germany phases out its nuclear plants, Europe is expected to need around 200 GW of new and replacement capacity between 2010 and 2020 – more than the combined capacity of Germany and the UK today.

However, simply building new plants is no longer the answer. Under the Kyoto agreement, countries are committed to cutting their emissions of greenhouse gases. The EU is responsible for about a quarter of industrialised countries' greenhouse gas emissions, and by 2008-2012 must cut these by 8% compared to 1990 levels to meet Kyoto targets.

Europe's electricity industry needs to increase generating capacity, but at the same time must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. "The development of low- or zero-emission technologies for fossil fuel power stations is critical in this task," says the EC.

Competitive advantage

FENCO is all about efficiency – not just the efficiency of electricity generation, but the efficiency of research itself, says the EC. It constitutes the preparatory step for an ERA-NET that, by co-ordinating research into greener fossil fuel electricity generation, has the potential to "secure a long-term competitive advantage for Europe – inexpensive energy with reduced environmental impact."

The tremendous challenge of replacing the existing fossil energy supply with a low- or zero-emission system cannot be solved by one party alone, the EC notes. "Full confidence in new technologies requires collaborative research and demonstration. A joint effort by Member States, the EU, industry and the research community will help to make Europe competitive in international energy technology markets."

With the world's cleanest and most efficient power production, Europe's industrial base will also reap significant economic benefits. FENCO's supporters believe it will not only help Europe meet its own emission reduction targets but will also help European companies secure global sales of clean power technologies.

Growing interest

A workshop on FENCO held in the UK on 25-26 March attracted representatives from about half the EU-25. Countries expressing support for the initiative, in addition to the original seven, include Spain, Holland, Estonia, Latvia, Finland and Norway, with further discussions underway with Italy and France. So membership is expected to increase.

The EC itself has also been very supportive of the project and sees it as something that could have significant impact, influencing future EC programmes in this area.

Further information about FENCO can be obtained from the project co-ordinator, Projektträger Jülich (PTJ), Dr Hubert H. Höwener, Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, 52425 Jülich, Germany (h.hoewener@fz-juelich.de, fax: +49 246 1613 131). The FENCO consortium consists of BMWA, PTJ, DTI and Future Energy Solutions (AEA Technology)

FENCO, why it matters

– an industrial perspective

I think that the high level of interest in the FENCO initiative reflects the increasing awareness that before we can get to a sustainable energy future, there will be a major transitional period that has to involve the continued use of fossil fuels. Therefore a critical issue is their clean use, something that perhaps has not had the recognition and acceptance that it needs to date. To me it is essential that this is addressed alongside the other technologies (such as renewables and energy efficiency) and is part of the overall `portfolio`. It is clear that there is no one single winning technology and that all measures will have their place and be used.

If Europe is to compete effectively on world markets it needs to have a critical mass programme addressing the issue of what is becoming increasingly known as "carbon management" or "carbon abatement" for fossil power generation.

FENCO should provide the basis for this and pull together the rather disparate current nature of the EU technology programmes in this area, provided it is developed closely with industry and the sector as a whole, and cultivates strong relationships with other initiatives such as Power 21, which brings in the manufacturers.

This sort of approach needs to embrace improvements in efficiencies in the short/medium term right through to (near) zero emission involving capture and storage in the medium/long timeframe. It also needs to involve all the different elements of a strategy, both technical – research and technology development, validation of the technologies at component level, and demonstration or 'lighthouse' projects – and non-technical (legal, environmental impact, health and safety, public perception etc).

Nick Otter, Director of Technology and External Affairs, Alstom Power Ltd, UK

AD700 focuses on

component test facility

The AD700 project was originally planned in six phases, with the aim of developing a pulverised-coal-fired power plant operating with steam temperatures of 700°C and beyond. Phases 1 and 2 were funded under the EC's 4th and 5th Framework Programmes (FP4 and FP5) respectively, but, surprisingly, FP6 included no provision for funding of AD700 (or any other fossil fuel technology apart from CO2 capture and sequestration).

To continue the AD700 programme, albeit in a reduced form, funding was sought from another body of the EU, the Research Fund for Coal and Steel. Although a contract has not yet been signed the indications are that this application has been successful and a component test facility, COMTES700, will be established as the next stage of the project .

This RFCS money will provide around 40% of the a15 million needed for this phase of the work, with the rest coming from EMAX, a group represnting power plant operators (EDF, Electrabel, Elsam, ENBW, Energi E2, E.On, RWE, Vattenfall and PPC (Greece)). The manufacturers, Alstom, Babcock-Hitachi Europe, Burmeister and Wain Energy and Siemens are also partners in COMTES700, providing technology.

The purpose of COMTES700 will be to prove the technical maturity of materials for handling steam parameters of 700°C over 30000 operating hours. The facility, to be installed at one of E.On's German plants, is expected to operate between 2005 and 2010. An important benefit will be to learn how to fabricate, machine and weld the new materials and at what cost.

EMAX is still hoping to build a 400 MW demonstration plant using the AD700 plant concept, with construction to start around 2008-9. It is also hoped that the EC might be rethinking its position on funding clean fossil energy research and that some support for this demo plant might be forthcoming under FP7.

The power 21 programme The power 21 programme
Where FENCO fits in Where FENCO fits in

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