Massive power stations are not usually considered within the realm of architectural discourse, but they hold all of us, including the architecture we create, within their sphere of influence. How we make our power plants ultimately will affect how we make our buildings. The newly opened GreenGen energy plant in Tianjin, China is the first major step, made by the world’s greatest coal consumer, towards an actual green coal plant. It would be nice to get off of coal completely but the hard truth is that it’s just too abundant and easy to get at to, to expect it to be given up over night.
But the way that we use it once we’ve got it is where the difference can really be made. This coal plant produces 250MW of electricity by converting coal fuel to ‘syngas’, which is a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This gas is then used to drive the plant’s turbines. This process, called integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) is far cleaner and an much more overall efficient process of coal energy production. In the IGCC process, nearly all the sulfurous particulates, nitrous emissions and other impurities, such as mercury and soot- all of which create that all too familiar haze, are scrubbed from exhaust for recycling. With all the other junk removed, the CO2 emitted is very near to pure, and thus easy to capture and reuse. And the plants which are being built to capture the CO2- where do they reuse it? The CO2 is sold to soft drink companies to make carbonated beverages! Now of course, the large ammount of CO2 produced by this plant, reduced as it is, is still much more than the demand of soda companies, so some CO2 is simply released into the atmosphere, but hey, it’s a start.