Put online just this year, a startup program has been called a game-changer from the media, politicians, and experts alike. NET Power has built a $150-million plant that sequesters 100 percent of emissions from natural gas. As the talk of climate change pressures the fossil fuel industry to clean up its inputs to the atmosphere, NET Power could be the start of the solution. Its power plant lies about 30 miles outside of Houston, Texas in a town called La Porte, and so far, it’s generated enough power for thousands of households. The goal for the pilot facility is to generate enough power for 200,000 homes, i.e. 300 megawatts, using something called the Allam Cycle — a patented system that generates low-cost power that is highly pressurized and ready for transportation.
There are four investors behind the small group of innovators: Exelon, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, McDermott, and 8 Rivers.
The NET Power demonstration plant
With the backing of bigtime companies, NET Power has developed a way to produce electricity using natural gas at a competitive cost without any emissions. Other attempts to sequester emissions have been extremely costly and energy-intensive during the production process — not to mention, barely capturing 50 percent of emissions.
The trial run (in an energy-dominated area of Texas) has proved successful enough to expand. In July 2019, senior members of NET Power reported that multiple new projects will be popping up all around the United States. Though not many details have been released, leaders in the company revealed that the projects will be the same 300 megawatt-scale as the first power plant. This was discussed in Washington, D.C. at a Deployment of Deep Decarbonization Technologies workshop.
How it works
Traditional power plants burn fossil fuels using oxygen to create heat. In coal plants, for example, this is done is a boiler room where burning coal and boiling water generate steam. The steam then expands through a specialized turbine that creates power.
Photo courtesy of “Making gas-CCS a commercial reality: The challenges of scaling up” in
Greenhouse Gases: Science and Technology
Instead, the Allam Cycle uses carbon dioxide rather than steam to produce electricity. Natural gas is combusted with recuperated carbon dioxide and oxygen, which prevents burn off that causes atmospheric pollution. The captured carbon dioxide decreases the amount of oxygen needed to generate power, which is part of how it keeps costs down as oxygen is expensive to produce. The carbon dioxide is highly pressurized and is joined with water that filters through a turbine at high temperatures and is cooled through a heat exchanger. The water is then removed, which leaves just the carbon dioxide. The remnant gas is compressed, repressurized, and recycled back through the combustor several times.
The Allam Cycle eliminates the need for water consumption and lowers the amount of oxygen to generate power needed by a considerable amount.
Who’s behind the machine?
Exelon – Exelon Corporation is a Fortune 100 company heavily involved in the energy industry. It backs power generation, competitive energy sales, transmission, and delivery. It is one of the largest powerhouses in the United States. It generates more than 32,000 megawatts of energy from nuclear, coal, gas, and alternative sources. It serves nearly two million customers in residential, commercial, and public sectors.
McDermott – McDermott is a technology, engineering, and construction company operating around the globe, headquartered in Texas. In 54 countries, the company is focused on innovating offshore, subsea, and downstream energy.
8 Rivers Capital – 8 Rivers is a venture capital company that was the first to get behind Rodney Allam, a British chemical engineer that developed the thermodynamic cycle behind the NET Power plant.
Oxy Low Carbon Ventures – A subsidy of Occidental Petroleum Corporation, Oxy Low Carbon, LLC is a developer in carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies that capitalize on its parent company’s enhanced oil recovery processes.
Alan Neuhauser (2018). “New Technology Promises Natural Gas With No Emissions” U.S. News and World Report.
Kevin Ryan (2019). “A $150 Million Power Plant Was Just Built in Texas. Humanity Should Pray It Succeeds” Inc.
James Conca (2019). “Net Zero Natural Gas Plant — The Game Changer” Forbes
Erin Douglas (2019). “Experimental Texas power plant aims to make electricity cheaper, cleaner” Houston Chronicle
NET Power. “Technology”
8 Rivers. “The Allam Cycle and NET Power”
Diego, M. & Akram, Muhammad & Bellas, Jean-Michel & Finney, Karen & Pourkashanian, M.. (2017). “Making gas-CCS a commercial reality: The challenges of scaling up” Greenhouse Gases: Science and Technology