A new carbon capture plant, about to go online in Thompson, Texas in January, offers one alternative for reducing emissions under the incoming Trump administration. The Petra Nova carbon capture project is poised to offer a much-needed example of success moving forward with carbon capture technology. The project is scheduled to be completed generally on time and within budget, unlike many previous carbon capture projects. Led by power company NRG, it is attached to one of the company’s coal burning plants, and will capture 90 percent of the CO2 generated by the coal facility. Once functioning, it will capture 1.6 million tons of carbon annually.
The exhaust stream from the coal plant is channeled into pipes where it is exposed to a chemical solution of ‘amines’, derivatives of ammonia which bond with the carbon dioxide. The solution is then channeled to a regenerator, which applies heat to the amine solution, releasing the CO2, which is compressed and stored for other uses. The solution of amines is recycled through the plant to capture more CO2.
The billion-dollar project is a collaboration between NRG power and JX Nippon Oil and Gas Exploration. After the CO2 is captured, it will be channeled 81 miles through a pipeline to an oil field, where it will be injected into oil wells. The process, called oil recovery, will increase oil production by roughly 15,000 barrels a day. NRG owns a quarter of the oil recovery project, which means that this oil production will in part help to pay for the carbon capture plant. The continued economic viability of the plant will depend in part on the price of oil hovering around $50 a barrel or higher, according to NRG spokesman David Knox. It will also depend on funding and further tax incentives from the federal government, which has contributed 190 million dollars so far.
With problems, often financial, plaguing so many prior carbon capture projects, the success of the Petra Nova plant may play a part in determining the role of the technology in the near future. Despite its hurdles, carbon capture, also called carbon sequestration, has been hailed as essential for reducing emissions by the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. However, the incoming Trump administration, with its considerable skepticism towards climate change, adds another wild card to the future of carbon capture.
However, the unique features of the technology offer some reasons for optimism. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who met with Trump about the possibility of becoming his Secretary of Agriculture, said:
“I actually think it’s a moment of optimism. What I saw with the president-elect was a laserlike focus on jobs. I think he was intrigued,” as to the prospect of carbon capture opening up a new future for the coal industry.
The Trump campaign discussed “clean coal” often during the campaign, a prospect that could include the use of carbon capture in addition to technologies that limit smog and pollution.