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New Projects Show Carbon Capture Is Not Dead

Carbon capture and storage has had a hard time finding love. The technology is easy to dismiss because of its expense. It’s too green for those on one extreme, too tied to fossil fuels for others, and largely misunderstood by those in the middle. The demise of the U.S. project FutureGen and then German energy producer Vattenfall’s decision to shut down its CCS operations in 2014 was a low-point for CCS. But  a rash of new projects are proving the technology is surviving and—depending on the policies of the incoming Trump administration—it may even be headed for a turning point. Proponents of the technology got some exciting news last week with the world’s largest carbon capture system, $1 billion Petra Nova facility outside Houston, began operations. At full swing, Petra Nova will pump 1.4 million tons of carbon dioxide per year from a coal power plant to a nearby oilfield to force oil out of the ground. Using carbon dioxide to recover oil is not ideal for combating climate change. But Petra Nova is a shining star because it came in on budget and on time, something unheard of for CCS. Two other large U.S. CCS projects are slated to go online in the next few weeks. The Kemper County Energy Facility in Mississippi will use trapped carbon dioxide for oil recovery. Archer Daniels Midland Company’s bioethanol facility in Decatur, Illinois plans to store the captured gas in a saline aquifer deep underground; that plant is ready to go and awaiting permits expected by spring. Meanwhile, in Canada, two high-profile CCS facilities—SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Power Station and Shell’s Quest project—have been performing as expected since they began operations in the past two years.