A Power Plant Joining the Grid in 2018 Burns Natural Gas with No Emissions

Trending Renewable

A welcome new energy trend has emerged in recent years: traditional fossil fuels appear to be on the way out, while renewable sources of energy are on the rise.

Popular opinion has shifted toward energy sources with a smaller carbon footprint, and renewable energy is becoming cheaper, more efficient, and more widespread. However, the transition away from fossil fuels is still far from complete. To help ease this transition period, one company has developed a way to burn a fossil fuel — natural gas — to generate electricity without producing any carbon emissions.

The company is NET Power, and their product is the Allam cycle.

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In a typical power plant, a fossil fuel such as coal is combusted with ambient air to create heat to boil water. The steam from that water then turns a turbine to produce electricity.

According to NET Power, this process is inefficient, with 30 to 40 percent of the system’s energy lost during the process. It’s also damaging to the environment, producing harmful nitrous oxides (NOx) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and, in some cases, spewing sulfur dioxides, mercury, and fine particulate matter into the air as well.

NET Power’s plant is a bit different. It combusts natural gas with oxygen instead of ambient air, which is nearly 80 percent nitrogen. This allows the system to avoid the NOx emissions of traditional plants. The result of the combustion is nearly pure CO2.

This CO2 is heated until it reaches supercritical status, at which point it flows like a liquid but expands like a gas. This supercritical CO2 is then used to drive a turbine to produce electricity. After that, it’s cooled and de-pressurized back to a normal gas and returned to the front of the loop to keep the cycle going.

NET Power
NET Power’s prototype plant, under construction in Houston, Texas. Image Credit: NET Power

Using supercritical CO2 to run the turbine allows NET Power to avoid the energy loss that comes with converting water to steam. Any excess CO2 created by burning the natural gas can be stored underground or sold to the market. Others can use this CO2 for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), a process that involves blasting CO2 underground to free up oil reserves.

“Anybody who says keep [fossil fuels] in the ground is asking the wrong question,” NET Power CEO Bill Brown told NPR. “The question is, are we putting CO2 into the atmosphere? And if the answer is no, then that should be sufficient.”

NET Power has already built a smokestack-free prototype power plant in a small lot in the oil hub and carbon-dioxide-emitting hotspot of Houston. The plant is expected to begin running in 2018 and produce 50 MW of electricity, enough to power more than 40,000 homes. It will produce this emission-free electricity at a cost of 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is comparable to the cost of electricity from natural gas plants today.

If the prototype plant works the way NET Power thinks it will, the company plans to open a 300-megawatt power plant by 2021. That plant could produce emissions-free power for over 200,000 homes.

Carbon Capture, 2.0

Those who say we cannot solve climate change by a swap to renewables alone have long hoped for an alternative like NET Power’s. Rodney Allam, the engineer who pioneered the cycle, is himself a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“I’m not knocking renewables, but they can’t meet future power demands by themselves,” Allam told Science.

As the oft-repeated adage goes, wind and solar only work when the Sun is shining and the wind is blowing. That problem will be alleviated by better energy storage technology, but until that storage is available, natural gas could be a solid interim solution. It produces much less CO2 than coal and can be ramped up or down as renewable contributions fluctuate.

NET Power’s plant takes it one step further by cleaning up the carbon at no added cost. Still, with the cost of renewable energy rapidly falling, some may be hesitant to invest in a technology that relies on fossil fuels and is currently more expensive than the renewables themselves.

However, if NET Power’s prototype plant works as hoped when it fires up in 2018, its success could be enough to motivate the world to give the Allam cycle a shot.

The post A Power Plant Joining the Grid in 2018 Burns Natural Gas with No Emissions appeared first on Futurism.


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Scientists Warn That Fossil Fuel Emissions Will See Record Highs in 2017

Emissions are Increasing

Some sobering news was announced this week, preceding international climate negotiations in Germany. After three years of flat growth, global emissions are increasing again. This was discovered thanks to a series of reports from the Global Carbon Project, an organization, chaired by Stanford scientist Rob Jackson, that works to quantify emissions.

Despite this less-than-stellar news, Jackson stated in a press release, “This year’s result is discouraging, but I remain hopeful.” He continued, “In the U.S., cities, states, and companies have seized leadership on energy efficiency and low-carbon renewables that the federal government has abdicated.”

Jackson is correct. While U.S. national decisions on emissions and efforts to combat climate change are falling far short, with the country pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, states and cities are beginning to act independently. But, while many are hopeful that these grassroots efforts might keep the U.S. on track for now, this report details rising emissions on a global scale.

“Time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2º Celsius let alone 1.5º Celsius.”

This report is published in Nature Climate Change, Environmental Research Letters, and Earth System Science Data Discussions. The report shows that, in 2017, global emissions from all human activities will reach 41 trillion kg (41 billion metric tons), after a 2 percent (withing a range of 0.8 to 3 percent) rise in fossil fuel use.

“This is very disappointing,” said lead researcher Corinne Le Quéré, “time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2 ºC let alone 1.5 ºC.”

Curbing CO2

Many hoped that these three years of little-to-no growth in emissions represented a peak — a positive sign that a decline would follow as a result of the efforts being made. But this is unfortunately not the case, as the Global Carbon Project has shown.

This disturbing message has reached policymakers and delegates who are attending the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 23) in Bonn this week. So, while it is upsetting news, it is ideal that all of these great minds are together and can start formulating a plan-of-action immediately. The Global Carbon Project report broke 2017’s cumulative global emissions down by country, which will be essential to policymakers looking to enact change.

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In 2017, U.S. emissions are actually projected to decline 0.4 percent (-2.7 to +1.9 percent). However, this decrease is significantly smaller than the 1.2 percent per year decline that the country has averaged over the last decade. There are a variety of factors that could explain why emissions are increasing, including an unexpected jump in coal consumption. This may make sense in light of U.S. economic growth — in 2017 alone, the GDP was up about 2.2 percent.

It is clear that we are moving in the wrong direction as a planet. This wake-up call has shown that, while we’ve made some progress in curbing global emissions for three last years, the efforts we are making are simply not enough. Hopefully, policymakers, corporations, and individuals will all work to get on the same page and make a concerted effort to stop the increasing emissions.

The post Scientists Warn That Fossil Fuel Emissions Will See Record Highs in 2017 appeared first on Futurism.


The World’s First Negative Emissions Power Plant is a Reality Thanks to Geoengineering

Negative Emissions

As climate change marches on, world leaders and scientists alike have considered the potential of geoengineering solutions to capture and store emissions. In fact, scientists recently concluded that we need to have “carbon-sucking” geoengineering tech in place by as early as 2030.

As reported by Quartz, it seems Iceland is ahead of that deadline, with the help of a 300-megawatt geothermal power plant that’s been built in Hellisheiði. The plant captures more carbon dioxide (CO2) than it produces, meaning it produces negative emissions. That said, it’s true that the plant only produces about one third of the carbon a traditional coal plant would — but more than what it emits is both captured and stored underground.

To accomplish this engineering marvel, a wall of fans sucks in air, filters out CO2, and injects the CO2 into water which is then pumped into the ground where it becomes rock. This process is simple and produces usable energy while eliminating emissions from the environment; truly a win-win. So why hasn’t this technology been immediately adopted and replicated in every state in every country in the world? The short answer is cost.

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The Cost of Energy

Currently, this process costs about $ 30 (USD) for every ton of carbon dioxide that is turned into rock, which is not particularly expensive. However, capturing the CO2 from the air would be significantly more cost-intensive. If the cost of pulling carbon dioxide could be whittled down to $ 100 per cycle, as its creators are aiming for, then the technology’s adoptability would be much improved.

The concept of capturing and storing carbon underground is nothing brand new: geoengineering solutions to climate change have been brewing and developing for years. However, the concrete completion of this plant proves not only that this process works as intended, but that the costs of producing energy in this manner aren’t completely out of reach. As the technology continues to advance and improve, they will hopefully continue to become more affordable, and in turn, more widely adopted.

If we continue to produce energy in the same manner, and at the same rate, as we currently are, climate change will only worsen. Its life-threatening repercussions will continue to become increasingly devastating — not to mention costly. While we shift from fossil fuels to renewable resources, it’s important to note that our emissions aren’t going anywhere.

Even if we were to eliminate our entire carbon footprint right now, we’d would still see years and years of energy usage left in our wake. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t do anything, as we’ve already jeopardized ourselves and the planet. Rather, it serves as a reminder that while we make changes regarding the types of energy we use, and how we use them, we can also invest in and support the elimination of existing emissions through emerging technology.

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