Can Natural Gas Be Used to Create Power With Fewer Emissions?

This is part of the article UpstartA series about young companies using new science and technology.

LA PORT, TEXAS – It wasn’t like in the movies. No one pulled the big switch on the wall, which produced a satisfying “thunk” and a thunderclap. Instead, one November evening, the clean-energy technology company, Shift Supervisor for NET Power, clicked the mouse several times in the control room set up in a double-wide trailer. With the last click, the company’s generator synchronized with the Texas Grid, a big step towards providing power to homes and businesses. Twenty-seven minutes later the supervisor disconnected.

It may not sound like much, but that brief demonstration at this demonstration plant – with a fraction of the capacity of a full-scale facility – demonstrates an innovative way of generating electricity that burns natural gas but does not produce the same greenhouse gases. Emissions as fossil fuels can play well with the country’s power grid.

Kem Hossi, who leads 8 Reverse, the first shareholder in NET Power, said he was overseeing the test that evening on his laptop. When the plant was synchronized, he remembered, “I cried.”

It was a milestone for NET Power, which has been working towards technology for 12 years. That synchronization – a difficult feat matched by grid frequency and other characteristics – opens up a tremendous stream of interest, as companies looking for a cleaner way to generate power seek to license NET Power’s technology. Potential customers have announced plans for new plants worldwide, including in the United States, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Carrie Jenkins, Harvard Law School’s director of environment and executive, said, “If this could be commercially deployed, it could play a key role, among others, in our ability to meet net-zero targets in the US as well as globally.” . ” Energy law program.

Most power plants boil water by burning coal or natural gas or by nuclear fission; The resulting steam then spins the turbine. Burning that fossil fuel produces greenhouse gases, which are the primary culprits in climate change. Scientists warn that if we do not stop these emissions, more and more terrible disasters are ahead.

Renewable energy (such as solar, wind and geothermal power) has grown exponentially due to falling prices. But many experts suggest that the grid will still need power sources that can be started quickly – a trade called “dispatable” power – to bridge the gap between sunlight and wind supplies. And while some researchers have suggested that the electric grid could be built entirely on renewable energy and storage, Professor Jenks said, “I think the fossils will continue to be in our energy system in the near future.” And so “you need a lot of solutions for us to move forward on the path we need to take now. We don’t know yet what the Silver Bullet is – and I doubt we’ll ever find a Silver Bullet, “she said.

That’s where NET Power fans say the company can make a difference: its technology usually burns natural gas without causing the biggest problem in fossil fuels. It burns a mixture of natural gas and oxygen within a circulating stream of high-temperature carbon dioxide under tremendous pressure. The resulting carbon dioxide drives the turbine in a form known as a supercritical fluid.

In other power plants, capturing carbon dioxide means adding separate equipment that draws significant energy. NET Power’s system captures carbon dioxide generated as part of its cycle, not as an add-on. Excess carbon dioxide can then be stored underground or used in other industrial processes. The operation of the plant does not produce any of the particles that are harmful to health, nor does it produce fog-producing gases such as nitrogen and sodium oxides grown by coal plants.

Its just another byproduct? Water.

With commercial success, NET Power believes it will significantly reduce global carbon emissions, said Ron DeGregorio, the company’s chief executive. Many potential consumers may still opt for coal power, but “bring this to market reliably, and this will change the world.”

The company licenses its technology to its customers and its partners and investors will build and operate the plant. These include oil giant Occidental Petroleum, which is making a big bet on carbon capture; Nakshatra, which operates the power plant; And Baker Hughes, who manufactures the specific tools needed for the process. This kind of investment, says Rick Callahan, president of Low Carbon Ventures, a subsidiary of Occidental, “demonstrates that people are putting their money where their mouth is with this project.”

The technology, like any power-generating equipment, can be applied in many ways, including power generation for industrial processes. Potential customers are imaginative. A repeat of the process, planned by Belgium-based energy company TES, proposes to incorporate NET power technology into a complex chain of energy storage and production as a way to provide hydrogen-based power. Jens Schmidt, TES’s chief technology officer, said “the .NET power technology is perfect for the proposed system.”

Other projects proposed in Louisiana will use NET Power’s technology to produce a variety of products, including hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Known as G2 Net-Zero, it has an export terminal for liquefied natural gas or LNG Charles E. Roemer IV, chairman of the company, said the cleaner was built when several LNG export terminals were planned or under construction in coastal Louisiana. The alternative can create a new pattern.

The technology has drawn criticism, particularly its reliance on methane infrastructure and the current limitations of carbon storage. Many environmentalists oppose LNG terminals, largely because they extend the use of fossil fuels; The Sierra Club recently targeted people planned for Cameron in southwestern Louisiana, including the G2 Net-Zero, arguing that they would cause serious environmental damage to the area.

“As long as the power plant is powered by methane gas, it will continue to harm our climate and communities,” said Jeremy Fisher, senior adviser on strategic research and development at the Sierra Club. “This technology will do nothing to protect households living with pollution next to wells or hazardous gas pipelines, and will continue to allow for large – and often low – counts of climate-warming methane leaking from wells, pipelines and plants.” “

Mr. Romer cited research showing that proper monitoring and prompt action could significantly reduce methane leaks and said he would work with natural gas suppliers who are “committed to reducing emissions.” To export LNG for combustion elsewhere, he said that anyone who gets his LNG could burn it at another NET power plant and avoid greenhouse gas emissions. “I will sell my product to people who are committed to the same things that I am committed to,” he said.

Mr. Romer said. “I don’t see how you can be against what I’m doing.”

If, through regulation, nations make it profitable to capture and store carbon dioxide, technologies such as NET Power will become more attractive. Yet while intergovernmental panels on climate change have repeatedly cited carbon capture and storage as part of the solution to climate change, details remain to be worked out – and many in the climate science community frame technology as an excuse to burn fossils. Fuel is not a goodwill attempt to decarbonize.

“What will you do with that CO2?” Asked Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University. “If it is used to enhance oil recovery, it still contributes to problems. If it is buried, how safely and permanently is it buried?”

Proponents of the technology note that solar and wind energy looked like a long shot before government incentives helped refine technology and reduce costs. Virginia Burkett, a leading scientist at the United States Geological Survey, said carbon sequestration was a “proven technique” in deep geological formations and noted that the National Academy of Sciences said it was ready for mass deployment in 2019.

Julio Friedman, an expert in carbon-removal technology, calls NET Power’s technology “an incredibly grand solution to a difficult problem.” However, Dr. Friedman, who works as a consultant for the company, said commercial success was not certain.

“I have had many discussions with physicists in physics who say, ‘There is a settlement; The rest is just engineering. ‘ Well, engineering is really hard. In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there are, “he said.” It’s still possible they’ll fail – but I don’t think so. “

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