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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NRG Energy say they’ve begun work on the world’s biggest carbon capture facility. The project is designed to safely sequester waste carbon as well as help extract oil that’s difficult or impossible to access using ordinary techniques.
The $1 billion Petra Nova Carbon Capture project, announced July 15, would capture some of the CO2 exhaust gas from the coal-fired W.A. Parish Generating Station in Thompsons, Texas, then pipe it about 80 miles to the West Ranch oil field, where it would be injected into recalcitrant oil deposits. Also investing in Petra Nova is Japan’s JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration.
The injected carbon waste will help free the oil for extraction, and then stay put, presumably forever.
Petra Nova began as a modest pilot project to capture carbon emissions from about 60 megawatts of the Thompsons plant’s generating capacity of 3,500 megawatts. That turned out to be too little CO2 to help extract the oil from West Ranch field, so the planners quadrupled the design’s capacity to the amount generated by 240 megawatts of the plant’s generating capability.
Once it’s captured from the Thompsons generator, the carbon exhaust gas must be cleaned of toxic salts of sulfuric acid known as sulfates. Then it must be run through a solution of ammonia derivatives called amines, which themselves can be recycled. Only then can the CO2 begin its 80-mile pipeline journey to West Ranch.
The timing, too, is opportune. On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) proposed a rule that would require coal-fired power plants to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
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Carbon capture isn’t a new idea. It has been widely promoted as a way to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Previous pilot programs, even more modest than the original DOE-NRG project, have shown that the technique works, and the procedure is well understood.
But little is known about how practical it may be, particularly how to defray the cost of adding a fairly complex and energy-intensive procedure to an electric power plant. If this experiment works, the process just may pay for itself.
Arun Banskota, president of NRG’s carbon capture group, says he believes the technology will be a success. “This project is such a game changer because it acts like a bridge between the power and oil industry,” he told Forbes. “Carbon dioxide is something we need to increasingly manage. There is a huge shortage for carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery.”
If Banskota is right, Petra Nova would allow NRG, its partners -- including Japan’s JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration – and NRG’s investors to develop and build carbon capture facilities to coal-fired power plants worldwide.
Stay tuned: Petra Nova is expected to be completed in 2016.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com