Saturday, September 02, 2017

Potential Carbon Capture Game Changer Nears Completion

If it works as expected, the Net Power natural gas demonstration plant will capture carbon at nearly no cost.

Net Power (Photo Credit: Net Power) Click to Enlarge.Net Power (Photo Credit: Net Power) Click to Enlarge.
In a small lot between Houston and the Gulf Coast, in an industrial zone packed with petrochemical factories and gas pipelines, a little-known company is finalizing construction of a demonstration power plant that could represent a genuine energy breakthrough.

If it works as expected, Net Power’s $140 million, 50-megawatt natural gas plant will capture effectively all of the carbon dioxide it produces, without significantly higher costs, in part by relying on the greenhouse gas itself to crank the turbine that generates electricity.  The technology could enable a new generation of plants that provide clean power, without the development risks of nuclear (see Meltdown of Toshiba’s Nuclear Business Dooms New Construction in the U.S.), the geographic restrictions of hydroelectric, or the intermittency issues of solar and wind.  Crucially, future plants of this type could also rely on the nation’s abundant supply of cheap natural gas.

“If it plays out as advertised, it could be an actual game changer,” says Jesse Jenkins, a researcher at the MIT Energy Initiative.

Of course, the road to carbon capture is littered with far more failures than successes, including the Southern Company’s recently abandoned Kemper multibillion-dollar “clean coal” effort in Mississippi.  So until Net Power is up and running, it’ll be impossible to say whether it can really operate as efficiently, cheaply, and reliably as hoped.  But the early major test is fast approaching, with “first fire” scheduled for late November or early December.  (The area around the site has sustained flooding as a result of Hurricane Harvey, but as of Tuesday, the facility itself has drained as designed and remains undamaged.)

Most coal or natural gas plants work by burning the fossil fuels to convert water into steam, which turns the turbine that generates electricity.  Excess heat and greenhouse gases waft away as by-products of the process.  Most attempts at carbon capture to date have bolted a scrubbing step onto the back end of the system, which adds costs by definition. 

Net Power’s maze of tubes, tanks, compressors, and pumps on the 1.5-acre site in La Porte, Texas, uses what is known as the Allam Cycle.  Among other differences, it eliminates the steam cycle by replacing water with supercritical carbon dioxide.  In this state, achieved under high heat and pressure, carbon dioxide takes on the properties of both a liquid and a gas.  The process was primarily developed by British chemical engineer and inventor Rodney Allam, now a partner and chief technologist at 8 Rivers Capital.  Net Power is a collaboration between the Durham, N.C.-based technology investment and development firm, plant operator Exelon Generation, and energy construction firm CB&I.

Read more at Potential Carbon Capture Game Changer Nears Completion

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