A new engineering approach to natural-gas
plants puts carbon dioxide to work.
A power plant e;ciently
and cheaply captures
carbon released by
burning natural gas,
WHY IT MATTERS
Around 32 percent of US
electricity is produced with
natural gas, accounting
for around 30 percent of
the power sector’s carbon
8 Rivers Capital
3 to 5 years
The world is probably stuck with
natural gas as one of our primary
sources of electricity for the fore-
seeable future. Cheap and readily
available, it now accounts for more
than 30 percent of US electricity
and 22 percent of world electricity.
And although it’s cleaner than coal,
it’s still a massive source of carbon
A pilot power plant just outside Houston, in the heart of the
US petroleum and refining industry, is testing a technology that
could make clean energy from
natural gas a reality. The company
behind the 50-megawatt project,
Net Power, believes it can generate power at least as cheaply as
standard natural-gas plants and
capture essentially all the carbon
dioxide released in the process.
If so, it would mean the world
has a way to produce carbon-free
energy from a fossil fuel at a reasonable cost. Such natural-gas plants
could be cranked up and down on
demand,;avoiding the high capital costs
of nuclear power and sidestepping the
unsteady supply that renewables generally provide.
Net Power is a;collabora-tion;between technology development firm 8 Rivers Capital, Exelon
Generation, and energy construction
firm CB&I. The company is in the process of commissioning the plant and
has begun initial testing. It intends to
release results from early evaluations
in the months ahead.
The plant puts the carbon dioxide released from burning natural gas
under high pressure and heat, using
the resulting supercritical CO; as the
“working fluid” that drives a specially
built turbine. Much of the carbon dioxide can be continuously recycled; the
rest can be captured cheaply.
A key part of pushing down the
costs depends on selling that carbon
dioxide. Today the main use is in helping to extract oil from petroleum wells.
That’s a limited market, and not a particularly green one. Eventually, however, Net Power hopes to see growing
demand for carbon dioxide in cement
manufacturing and in making plastics
and other carbon-based materials.
Net Power’s technology won’t solve
all the problems with natural gas, particularly on the extraction side. But as
long as we’re using natural gas, we
might as well use it as cleanly as possible. Of all the clean-energy technologies in development, Net Power’s is
one of the furthest along to promise
more than a marginal advance in cutting carbon emissions.