Last week, NET Power officially began operations at its 50-megawatt, emissions-free natural gas power plant in La Porte, Texas. If all goes well, the plant’s design could pave the way to a cleaner energy future. Instead of using air to drive a turbine and generate electricity, the plant uses heated carbon dioxide; the pure carbon dioxide emissions are then captured and stored rather than released into the atmosphere. Testing thus far has proven to be positive. “We’re still smiling,” lead designer and chemical engineer Rodney Allam told Nature. The goal is for NET Power’s technology to be as effective and affordable as conventional, emissions-producing natural gas production, but with added benefits for the environment and the company.
Designed by Toshiba, the plant’s innovative turbine and carbon capture system is capable of storing carbon long-term or for use in other industrial applications. For example, nitrogen and argon captured in the process could be contained and transferred elsewhere. NET Power claims that its plant is so efficient that it will become profitable before it even starts to sell captured gases.
“If the plant does everything they say, it’s hard to imagine why you would want to build a traditional power plant,” atmospheric scientist Daniel Cohan told Nature. “But there are still a lot of ifs ahead.” The major imminent challenge is refining the combustion process for oxygen and methane, which must contend with carbon dioxide, typically an inhibitor of combustion. The company is otherwise on track to deliver, with a 300-megawatt power plant potentially being built by 2021. The company’s plan is to achieve clean, profitable natural gas energy without the assistance of subsidies, which can be subject to the whims of changing governments in Congress and the White House.” We don’t like to rely on policy around here, we like to rely on science,” NET Power CEO Bill Brown told Nature.
Images via NetPower