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Image courtesy of ExxonMobil.

ExxonMobil announced Friday that it has teamed up with FuelCell Energy to research new carbon capture technology.

The companies signed an agreement to “pursue novel technology in power plant carbon dioxide capture through a new application of carbonate fuel cells, that could substantially reduce costs and lead to a more economical pathway toward large-scale application globally.”

The scope of the agreement between ExxonMobil and FuelCell Energy will initially focus for about one to two years on how to further increase efficiency in separating and concentrating carbon dioxide from the exhaust of natural gas-fueled power turbines.

Depending on reaching several milestones, the second phase will more comprehensively test the technology for another one to two years in a small-scale pilot project prior to integration at a larger-scale pilot facility.

Using fuel cells to capture carbon dioxide from power plants results in reduced emissions and increased power generation, Exxon said.

In the carbon capture context, power plant exhaust is directed to the fuel cell, replacing air that is normally used in combination with natural gas during the fuel cell power generation process.

As the fuel cell generates power, the carbon dioxide becomes more concentrated, allowing it to be more easily and affordably captured from the cell’s exhaust and stored.

In 2015, ExxonMobil captured 6.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide for sequestration, or the equivalent of eliminating the annual greenhouse gas emissions of more than 1 million passenger vehicles.

Exxon said that two years of  comprehensive laboratory tests have “demonstrated that the unique integration of two existing technologies – carbonate fuel cells and natural gas-fired power generation – captures carbon dioxide more efficiently than existing scrubber conventional capture technology.”

The potential breakthrough comes from an increase in electrical output using the fuel cells, that generate power, compared to a nearly equivalent decrease in electricity using conventional technology.

“Advancing economic and sustainable technologies to capture carbon dioxide from large emitters such as power plants is an important part of ExxonMobil’s suite of research into lower-emissions solutions to mitigate the risk of climate change,” vice president for research and development at ExxonMobil Research & Engineering Company Vijay Swarup said.

Exxon believes that the resulting net benefit could substantially reduce costs associated with carbon capture for natural gas-fired power generation, compared to the expected costs associated with conventional separation technology.

Exxon said a key component of the research will be to validate initial projected savings of up to one-third.

“Carbon capture with carbonate fuel cells is a potential game-changer for affordably and efficiently concentrating carbon dioxide for large-scale gas and coal-fired power plants,” FuelCell Energy president and CEO Chip Bottone said.