A new type of natural gas-fired power plant is starting to make its way around the world, one that can generate electricity from fossil fuels while capturing the CO2 produced in the process.
The challenge: To tackle climate change, we need to shift from carbon-emitting sources of electricity, such as coal-fired power plants, to sources that do not emit greenhouse gases, such as renewables and electricity. nuclear energy.
However, while renewables are cheap and clean, they are also inconsistent as they can be dependent on the time of day and weather conditions. Nuclear is clean and consistent, but it takes a lot of time and money to build new factories.
Energy-efficient carbon capture technology is built right into the plant’s design – it’s not an afterthought.
Natural gas: At present, the main source of electricity in the United States is natural gas. It’s cheap, plentiful, and reliable, and while it’s not as environmentally friendly as renewables or nuclear, it’s better than coal, producing around 50% less CO2 per megawatt hour.
It is possible to make a natural gas power plant more ecological by capturing, filtering and sequestering (storing or burying) the CO2 it produces. However, the additional installations used for this purpose are extremely expensive, energy intensive and imperfect – CO2 is still being released.
A cleaner plant: In 2018, a new type of zero-emission natural gas-fired power plant was commissioned in Texas.
Built by energy start-up Net Power, this pilot plant incorporated energy-efficient carbon capture technology directly into its design – not after the fact – and it could prevent nearly 100% of the CO2 produced from being released into the plant. the atmosphere.
At the time, they hadn’t quite figured out how to burn their fuel (a mixture of gas, CO2, and pure oxygen) consistently. But in the years since, it seems they’ve put together the perfect mix – all without releasing CO2 and air pollutants (including very harmful compounds like NOx) into the air.
Now the company plans to build two more of its unique natural gas-fired power plants in Colorado and Illinois – these will be commercial-scale plants, each producing 280 megawatts of electricity, compared to the installation of 50 MW test in Texas.
Net Power has also announced plans to build a zero-emission natural gas-fired power plant in Canada – it is expected to start producing electricity by 2025. A large 300 MW plant in the UK is also under construction. development – with regulatory approval, it could start producing electricity by 2025 too.
The big picture: As long as the world relies heavily on natural gas to generate electricity, as it will for the foreseeable future, we need to make the process as clean as possible. In this regard, Net Power’s innovative design is a huge step forward not only from coal, but also from existing gas and carbon capture plants.
Yet even if all natural gas-fired power plants in the world were to rely on Net Power’s carbon capture design, gas still wouldn’t be the most environmentally friendly energy source. Gas wells and pipelines release methane into the atmosphere and other contaminants into soil and groundwater.
The long-term goal of a net-zero emissions world ultimately requires a transition to renewables, geothermal, and nuclear – and hopefully one day the holy grail of clean energy: fusion.
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