CCS projects see progress

Three recent announcements signal important progress toward greater deployment of technology to capture and store carbon emissions that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere. CCS technology can capture up to 90 percent of emissions from power plants and industrial facilities and is critical to reducing climate-changing emissions while fossil fuels remain part of our energy mix.

One piece of good news came when NRG Energy announced it has begun construction on the Petra Nova Project in Texas, where an existing coal-fired power plant will be retrofitted with carbon capture equipment. The Petra Nova Project will be the world’s third commercial-scale CCS power project, following the nearly-completed SaskPower Boundary Dam project in Saskatchewan, Canada, and Southern Company’s Kemper County Energy Facility in Mississippi opening in 2015.

Once it starts operations in 2016, Petra Nova will capture up to 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, 90 percent of its total emissions. The CO2 will be sold for use in enhanced oil recovery. Revenue from using captured CO2 to coax additional production from declining oil fields provides an important financial incentive for carbon capture, and results in the eventual permanent storage of the CO2 underground.

Petra Nova’s investors include JX Nippon, a Japanese oil and gas company; the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and Mizuho Bank. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded the project a $167 million grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

It was also encouraging news when the United States and China announced this month that partners from both countries have agreed to collaborate on several CCS projects. Under one agreement, Seattle-based Summit Power and Huaneng Group, China’s largest power generator, will share lessons learned from developing two commercial-scale CCS power projects. These include Summit’s Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP), a proposed coal-fired CCS power plant in West Texas that DOE also selected for Recovery Act funding, and a similar project Huaneng is building in China.

Coal currently provides 39 percent of electricity in the United States and 78 percent in China, where its use is expected to grow. U.S. and Chinese leaders hope these partnerships will help both nations further CCS deployment.

Finally, the White Rose CCS Project, a coal-fired CCS power plant in the United Kingdom, is set to begin construction after receiving a €300 million grant (approximately $400 million) from the European Commission’s New Entrants’ Reserve (NER) 300 program. NER 300 funds clean energy projects, and White Rose is the first CCS project recipient.

White Rose’s project partners, including National Grid, Alstom, BOC, and Drax, envision the facility laying the groundwork for a much larger effort. White Rose will capture up to 2 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, but pipelines and storage infrastructure will be designed to accommodate 17 million tons of carbon dioxide per year from other capture projects in the region.

These projects are important milestones, and will be instructive to future projects. The involvement of multiple nations, private companies and investors in these projects underscores the importance of CCS in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Cost remains one of the major barriers to deployment, but as more commercial-scale CCS projects are completed, costs will fall, allowing the technology to become more widely adopted.