CO2-free natural gas? CCS project powers grid for first time

By Carlos Anchondo, Edward Klump | 11/17/2021 07:07 AM EST

The Net Power project in Texas. Net Power LLC

A Texas natural gas plant has delivered emissions-free electricity to the grid for the “first time anywhere in the world” for this kind of technology, according to an announcement yesterday from clean energy company Net Power LLC.

The company said its natural gas test project in La Porte, Texas, exported enough energy to power more than 1,000 homes during a first-time grid synchronization — calling the delivery a “major milestone for the energy industry.”

“This is a Wright-brothers-first-flight kind of breakthrough for energy — zero-emission, low-cost electricity delivered to the grid from natural gas-fueled technology,” Net Power CEO Ron DeGregorio said in a statement yesterday.

The plant operates using Net Power’s proprietary technology, which works by burning natural gas with pure oxygen, instead of air, and using “supercritical” carbon dioxide, instead of steam, to drive a turbine and generate electricity.

Although Net Power’s four-step cycle recycles most of the resulting CO2, excess CO2 is captured and is “pipeline ready” for underground storage in geologic formations or use in industrial processes.

However, a company spokesperson noted the 50-megawatt La Porte plant operates as a testing facility and isn’t expected to operate long term as a commercial power facility. The spokesperson added that it may “go on and come off the grid” as part of a testing plan, but that the frequency of those tests isn’t known yet.

Other financial and technical questions remain about the project, which has been watched closely as an early indicator of whether natural gas can be a carbon-free fuel. There currently are no carbon capture projects operating on large U.S. natural gas-fired power plants.

Joshua Rhodes, a research associate with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas, Austin, said it’s great that Net Power has shown the process will work. But it remains to be seen whether the economics pencil out on a commercial basis, he said.

“The parts, the pumps, the seals, the everything will likely be more expensive than a regular” natural gas system, he predicted.

Rhodes said a valid criticism may be that Net Power is tapping into a broader U.S. natural gas supply system that can still have leaks in it. At the same time, Rhodes said captured CO2 will need a suitable place to be used for making other products or to be sequestered underground.

He suggested 45Q federal tax credits could help with projects that are tied to sequestering or reusing CO2, while pipelines also could send carbon dioxide for use in enhanced oil recovery or other chemical processes. “The market is somewhat limited,” Rhodes said, but there is a market for CO2.

“NET Power plants can utilize the 45Q federal tax credit for carbon capture and storage,” a spokesperson for the company said in an email, adding that Net Power “is targeting capital costs that are comparable to natural gas combined cycle plants, which have no back-end emissions controls, once the technology reaches maturity.”

On Twitter, Princeton University assistant professor Jesse Jenkins called the development “historic,” adding that how big it is for the industry depends “on how they scale from here.”

Net Power said it is working with several clients globally to develop utility-scale power plants and is aiming for initial projects to come online in the next five years.

In April, clean technology company 8 Rivers Capital LLC announced plans to build two emissions-free gas power plants using Net Power’s technology, one in Colorado and another in Illinois (Energywire, April 16). In its statement yesterday, Net Power also said projects using its technology have been announced in Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States.

 

From ‘first fire’ to ERCOT

The La Porte facility became operational in 2018, when the company announced it had achieved “first fire” of the plant’s combustor (Energywire, May 31, 2018). The project broke ground in 2016.

The company said delivery of electricity from the test facility to the grid validated its technology and would accelerate its commercialization.

Several carbon capture industry observers said the announcement was an important step in removing emissions from natural gas.

“Connecting to the grid represents progress for Net Power as they approach commercial readiness,” John Thompson, technology and markets director at Clean Air Task Force, said in an email yesterday.

“Innovation like this is critical to tackling climate change and many new zero-carbon energy options will be needed,” Thompson continued.

“There are few game changers in the energy space, but NET Power is now officially one of them,” Rich Powell, executive director of the conservative clean energy group ClearPath, said in a statement.

“This carbon capture technology will be able to produce cleaner, emission-free power from coal and natural gas affordably and on demand,” Powell added.

Net Power’s announcement came after Texas experienced blackouts earlier this year as it dealt with prolonged subfreezing temperatures.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s primary grid operator, didn’t have sufficient power to dispatch in mid-February as many power plants were unable to operate in the cold and icy weather or didn’t have sufficient fuel to operate at full power.

“Although ERCOT is fuel neutral, we welcome this project as another example of generation growth in ERCOT,” the grid operator said in a statement yesterday.