What if fossil fuels could be burned without pouring emissions into the air? Many people consider that idea to be wishful thinking, but chemical engineer Rodney Allam doesn’t. He’s been working on carbon capture technology on and off since the 1970’s, and with the help of venture capital incubator 8 Rivers, recently put the finishing touches on the Allam Cycle, an electric-generation system that captures all the carbon dioxide (CO2) made from burning fossil fuels.
Allam investigated bolt-on methods during his decades of searching for a way to capture CO2 from fossil fuel plants, but found those methods too expensive. He aimed to make carbon capture affordable, but gave up in the 1990’s. Then 8 Rivers came along in 2009 with a plan to make use of Recovery Act money from the federal government. When Allam returned to the issue, he was at last able to develop the Allam Cycle.
The Allam Cycle doesn’t utilize steam to create electricity. Instead, CO2 under pressure and in a supercritical state spins the turbines powering the generators. Combustion adds CO2 to keep the process going, and any excess is sent into a pipeline.
NetPower, 8 Rivers’ portfolio company constructing the first Allam Cycle plant, describes the technology as truly clean, saying plants that utilize the Allam Cycle are able to “inherently eliminate all air emissions.” That means no particulate matter, mercury, nitrogen oxides, or sulfur oxides either. Plus, Allam’s technology can generate electricity at the same six cents per kilowatt-hour as other gas-fired turbines.
NetPower is working with Exelon and Toshiba on the first plant. According to Forbes, such a full-size plant costs around $300 million to construct and can generate 300 megawatts yearly. Once the plant is built, it will take a few months before NetPower can show the cycle is stable. Allam told Forbes they might know for sure in a year. The first plant will run on natural gas; 8 Rivers says on their website they are also developing a coal-based system.