Petra Nova, once billed as the largest U.S. project to capture carbon-dioxide emissions from a coal-fired power plant, opened to considerable publicity in Texas in late 2016.
Less than four years later, owner NRG Energy Inc. shut down the carbon-capture system, which cost $1 billion—not because the technology wasn’t working but because the expected end use for the carbon was no longer economically viable. The coal plant continues to generate electricity and emit carbon.
Carbon-capture projects are attracting renewed attention from investors and governments world-wide as concerns mount about the greenhouse-gas emissions linked to climate change. But the initiatives have a dismal record.
More than 80% of proposed commercial carbon-capture efforts around the world have failed, primarily because the technology didn’t work as expected or the projects proved too expensive to operate, according to a 2020 study by researchers at Canada’s Carleton University, the University of California, San Diego and other institutions.
The U.S. has spent $1.1 billion on carbon-capture demonstration projects since 2009, with uneven results, according to a December report from the Government Accountability Office. None of the eight coal projects selected for $684 million of the funding during that time is operating, the researchers found. Projects to capture carbon from heavy industries met with some success.
[Jennifer Hiller and Collin Eaton]