Sunday, April 10, 2016

Fossil Fuel Electricity with No Pollution?  This Company Is Building a Power Plant to Prove It. - by David Roberts

Fossil fuel power plants have steadily gotten more efficient, but the problem is, no matter how efficient your plant is, capturing the carbon dioxide emissions involves bolting on a second facility to process and separate the waste gases.  That second facility requires power (it's a "parasitic load," cutting into efficiency), and it adds to capital costs.

Coal and natural gas are already losing out to wind in many areas, without sequestration.  Once you add sequestration, even as wind and solar are getting cheaper and cheaper, how can fossil fuels with CCS possibly compete?

But now a new company claims it can capture the carbon without a separate facility, as part of the combustion process itself, at no extra cost.

In fact, it says it can generate power more efficiently than conventional power plants, in a smaller physical footprint, with zero air pollution, and capture the carbon — all at a capital cost below traditional power plants.

That is a heady set of claims.  If they prove out in practice, it could be a very big deal.  Let's take a closer look.

Natural gas electricity without the emissions
Last month, in La Porte, Texas, a North Carolina–based company called Net Power broke ground on a $140 million natural gas power plant.  It's small, just 50 MW, meant to demonstrate the viability of a new technology for burning fossil fuels.

Net Power is working in collaboration with some big names.  Exelon Generation will operate the plant.  CB&I, an infrastructure firm, will provide "engineering, procurement, and construction services."  Net Power's parent company, 8 Rivers Capital, will provide ongoing technology development.  And Toshiba will develop the key components (mainly the turbine).

Together they are in the process of developing a full-size 295 MW plant, scheduled for 2019 or 2020; the 50 MW demonstration plant is meant to reassure investors that the technology works.

So what's the technology?  It's called the Allam Cycle, named after lead inventor Rodney Allam.  It is — brace yourself — "a high-pressure, highly recuperative, oxyfuel, supercritical CO2 cycle."

The Allam Cycle (Credit: Net Power) Click to Enlarge.
Let's see if we can get our heads around that, at least enough to see why it matters.  Here's the diagram:

There's a technical explanation here and a more digestible article by Allam here;  we'll just hit the basics.

Read more at Fossil Fuel Electricity with No Pollution?  This Company Is Building a Power Plant to Prove It.

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