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Greenhouse Gases

One carbon capture project stalls as another advances

A coal plant mothballs its CO₂ facility, while a natural gas project moves forward

by Melody M. Bomgardner
August 12, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 31

 

09831-buscon2-petra.jpg
Credit: NRG Energy
NRG has stopped operating the Petra Nova carbon capture project at this Texas coal-fired power plant.

Petra Nova, the world’s largest carbon-capture project, has been mothballed by its operator, NRG Energy, because low oil prices made it unprofitable. The project captured roughly 90% of CO2 emissions from a Houston-area coal-fired power plant. The CO2 was piped to a nearby oil field and used in enhanced oil recovery.

A joint venture between NRG and Japan’s JX Nippon, Petra Nova is backed by $190 million in US Department of Energy grants and over $300 million in loans from Japanese banks. In its 3 years of operation it captured 3.5 million metric tons of CO2, according to the DOE.

The facility used an amine-containing solvent system developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to absorb CO2 from low-pressure, oxygen-containing flue gas.

The project’s abrupt halt shows how reliant large carbon-capture projects are on demand for CO2 from the oil sector. Oil production and prices have nosedived due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shutdown shows that “the outlook for industrial CO2 capture for enhanced oil recovery applications does not look positive,” concludes an analysis by the market research firm Lux Research. Lux says the project won’t be economical again until oil prices reach $70 per bbl. They are currently below $45 per bbl.

Meanwhile, another DOE-funded carbon-capture project is moving forward outside of Bakersfield, California. The Cal Capture project will capture CO2 from the gas-fired Elk Hills Power Plant. The project will use a solvent system developed by Fluor. Captured CO2 will not be used for oil production but instead will be sequestered.

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