A research team led by Britain’s Newcastle University stated greenhouse gas emissions from power stations could be cut to almost zero by controlling the combustion process with tiny tubes made from an advanced ceramic material.

The material, known as Lanthanum-Strontium-Cobalt-Ferric Oxide (LSCF), has the remarkable property of being able to filter oxygen out of the air. By burning fuel in pure oxygen, it is possible to produce a stream of almost pure carbon dioxide, which has commercial potential for reprocessing into useful chemicals.

LSCF was developed originally for fuel cell technology, but engineers at Newcastle University in collaboration with Imperial College London have developed it for potential use in reducing emissions for gas-fired power stations and possibly coal and oil-fired electricity generation as well, provided that the solid and liquid fuels were converted first into gas.

Conventional gas-fired power stations burn methane in a stream of air, producing a mixture of nitrogen and greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are emitted into the atmosphere.

However, the LSCF tubes would allow only the oxygen component of air to reach the methane gas, resulting in the production of almost pure carbon dioxide and steam, which can be separated easily by condensing out the steam as water.

The resulting stream of carbon dioxide could be piped to a processing plant for conversion into chemicals such as methanol, a useful industrial fuel and solvent.

The LSCF tubes look like small, stiff, drinking straws and are permeable to oxygen ions—individual atoms carrying an electrical charge. LSCF also is resistant to corrosion or decomposition at typical power station operating temperatures of about 800°C.

The Newcastle team is carrying out further tests on the durability of the tubes to confirm the initial findings that the tubes could withstand conditions inside a power station combustion chamber for a reasonable length of time.

Over the past 10 years, LSCF has been the subject of research in many countries, particularly the United States. The research has mainly been into its potential use as a cathode in fuel cells.

The benefits are many, and the operation is simple in theory. However, it would add to the cost and complexity of running a power station.  EC