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Petra Nova offers lessons for future?

December 10, 2020

Modern Power Systems:

Amidst growing international interest in carbon capture and storage (CCS) this year, an apparent high-profile setback for the technology came in May, with the mothballing of NRG’s Petra Nova facility in Texas – a coal-based project that represents the world’s largest installation of CO2 capture on a power plant. Like nearly all CCS projects operating today, Petra Nova relied on using CO2 for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), and was therefore hit hard by plummeting oil prices in the wake of the Covid-induced slump in demand.

The closure continued to generate headlines throughout the summer, as CCS sceptics sought to interpret it as a death knell for future projects. Most notably, a report by the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) – a US-based group active in campaigning against fossil fuels – labelled Petra Nova’s woes as a “red flag for investors on coal-fired CCS projects.” Firmly in IEEFA’s sights are a proposed wave of new projects in the USA, driven by the expanded 45Q tax credit, which will compensate plant owners at up to $50 per tonne of CO2 they store. While some plans are focusing on more easily captured CO2 streams from industrial facilities such as bioethanol or ammonia plants, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has helped drive power sector interest by part-funding engineering studies for nine coal and gas plants.

Although IEEFA suggests Petra Nova has operated under a cloud of secrecy, the performance over the plant’s first three years of operation, to December 2019, was well documented in a report to the DOE earlier this year. A 16% shortfall in the total CO2 captured over this period appears worrying, but was due to unexpected shutdowns of various parts of the process chain, rather than a failure of Mitsubishi’s amine-based solvent process to meet its target of removing 90% of CO2 from the treated flue gas. 

[Staff Report]

More: Learning from Petra Nova

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