February 26, 2009 While we are constantly covering advances in alternative energies the hard fact is that we are heavily reliant on the burning of fossil fuels to meet our energy needs - and in the medium term, given that the political will and economic benefits of finding green solutions is only just starting to gather momentum, we are stuck with them. That means we have to clean them up. We recently covered the discovery by Indian scientists of naturally occurring bacteria that convert CO2 into calcium carbonate and could be used on existing fossil fuel fired power plants and now Colorado based company, ION Engineering, have developed technology that could be used in a similar way to economically remove CO2 and other contaminants from fossil fuel power plant emissions and raw natural gas.

According to ION Engineering, until now the state-of-the-art in current emissions control technology was the inefficient, aqueous (water-based) amine technology, but a breakthrough has seen the company become the first to successfully integrate ionic liquid solutions into carbon capture and emissions control technology by replacing the water based solution with ionic liquids - molten salts that do not evaporate. The company says that while recent developments in carbon capture technology have brought costs of carbon capture down to $50 to $100 a ton, its ionic liquid technology could cut the costs of capturing carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants to as low as $20 a ton. This reduction is cost is mainly due to the fact that around 80% of the total cost of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) comes from the capture of CO2 – the very area that the company’s system focuses on.

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Not only does the technology offer an economical way to remove CO2 from fossil fuel fired power plants, it can also enhances natural gas “sweetening” processes. “Sweetening” is the removal of CO2, hydrogen sulfide and other contaminants from contaminated gas, (often called sour gas due to the sulphur smell), and is a $12 billion-year-business in the US alone. ION Engineering CEO, Alfred Brown says, “Using ionic liquids, which don't evaporate like water-based solutions and react with contaminating gases at a much higher rate, could lead to 30 percent to 40 percent reductions in those processing costs. “ ION Engineering also point out that contaminated gas reserves represent more than half of worldwide reserves so enhancing the “sweetening” process will vastly increase access to worldwide gas reserves by opening up "sour" gas fields now viewed as too expensive to develop.

With the wholesale replacement of existing fossil-fuel fired power plants with greener alternatives being an impractical short term suggestion due to the monumental costs involved, technologies like that developed by ION Engineering could help as a stepping stone to ensure the planet isn’t a total basket case by the time completely clean, green power sources are economically viable. Of course, we'd like to see the latter scenario emerge ASAP!

ION Engineering will be presenting at Venture Capital in the Rockies at Beaver Creek, March 3-5, 2009.

Darren Quick