Carbon capture plant ready for testing
On 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 this works, it will change the conversation about alternative energy. It will be harder for the carbon phobes to oppose the natural gas business which is much more efficient than wind and solar energy and also much more dependable.
“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.)