The Largest Carbon Capture Power Plant in the World Goes Online

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

On 10 January 2017, NRG Energy announced that the Petra Nova CCS facility is fully operational. The project is a joint venture between NRG Energy and JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp., located in Thompson, Texas, near Houston. Petra Nova’s success is a significant one for proponents of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, and for the energy sector as a whole for several reasons.

First, it is a 240 MW retrofit. The power plant employs a proven post-combustion carbon capture process based on a high-performance solvent for CO2 absorption. Successfully installing carbon capture on existing power generating facilities is especially valuable.  Although few new coal power plants are expected to be built in the US, nearly 35% of power currently generated in the country is still coal-fired.

Second, the US$1 billion dollar facility officially commenced its operation without delays and budget overruns, which proves that carbon capture technology can play a critical role in reducing the world’s CO2 emissions today. Overall, Petra Nova received $190 million from the US Department of Energy (DOE) in grants, where $167 million came from the DOE’s Clean Coal Power Initiative and $23 million from DOE under Section 313 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for carbon capture. The project partners – NRG Energy and JX Nippon – contributed $300 million each. The rest of the financial support came from overseas; the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and Mizuho Bank Ltd. together contributed $250 million in loans.

After carbon dioxide is captured at the plant, it is piped to a nearby oil field and used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) at the West Ranch Oil Field, jointly owned by NRG, JX Nippon, and Hilcorp Energy Company. This further improves Petra Nova’s economics since the captured CO2 is used by the same companies for EOR. According to NRG, it is expected that pumping captured CO2 into the oil field will increase oil production from 300 barrels per day to a whopping 15,000 barrels per day.

Last but not least, Petra Nova has a tremendous ability to keep CO2 out of the atmosphere. The project is expected to capture 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, more than any other currently operational power generation facility in the world. This is significant especially for developing economies that pledged to limit their greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Accord. The technology applied to Petra Nova can be used on natural gas power generation units for deep decarbonisation. In countries such as India and Indonesia, among others, energy demand is projected to skyrocket as their economies grow and develop, and CCS is the only way to generate power from abundant fossil fuels without contributing to climate change. 

Petra Nova CCS will capture 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 annually