German energy giant RWE is seeking to convert waste carbon dioxide from the flue gas of power stations into usable biomass that it hopes could be used as a renewable fuel for clean power plants.

The utility is working alongside German biotechnology company BRAIN on the scheme.

The firms hope to convert 10m-15m tonnes of CO2 from the flue gas over the next decade.

The scheme explores using micro-organisms bred specifically to convert CO2 into usable biomass by "feeding" on the carbon dioxide-containing flue gases from lignite-fired power stations.

Researchers at BRAIN have assessed over 3,000 varieties of micro-organism and found 29 "suitable candidates" that could have the potential to produce usable fuel. The project started at the 3.6GW lignite-fired Niederaussem power station in western Germany two years ago, and was extended in January after initial results proved positive.

"If we are successful with the research and development, the next phase will look at storage options, and eventually we will look at exporting the technology and working with other companies," RWE Power spokesman Lothar Lambertz said. Germany's biomass subsidy regime favours small to medium-sized plants from 50kW to 5MW in size (see EDEM 22 December 2011).

The definition would appear to favour the fuel likely to be produced by the conversion project, although Lambertz said it was too early to speculate on the likely potential for power generation.

So far, RWE has invested more than E2m in the programme, according to Johannes Heithoff, head of research and development at RWE Power.

RWE said it intends to go beyond the current project focus by examining other carbon-rich waste streams generated such as sewage water, the production of food or refinery processes.

Alongside biomass, it is exploring means of converting waste CO2 into other raw materials such as bio-plastics.

These projects are designed to cut emissions, but CO2 conversion technology could help reach EU 2020 renewable energy targets by creating low-carbon sources of back-up fossil fuel-fired power generation to offset the intermittent nature of many renewable technologies. AG



Copyright 2012 Heren Energy Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

(Originally published March 9, 2012, in European Daily Electricity Markets.)