Petra Nova, the leading CCS power project globally, may be an impressive piece of engineering, but makes a tiny difference to the generator’s emissions and demonstrates that the technology is un-investable. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll see another CCS power station built within a decade, if ever, in either the US or Australia.
On 1 May the Federal Minister for Energy and the Environment, Josh Frydenberg, posted a(43 views at time of writing, 10 of which, I confess, were me) of his visit to the second ‘significant’ CCS power station in the world, the at the in Texas.
In the video Josh claimed that the US$1bn project was “helping to reduce the carbon footprint by some 40%”.
The Parish Power station is pretty big: 2,462 MW of coal and 1,191 MW of gas generation which together emitted(Mt CO2e) in 2015.
(By comparison, thein Victoria has a capacity of 3210 MW and emitted in 2015-16, ie. the two plants are pretty similar in size and climate impact.)
If NRG Energy, the owner of the project, has found a way to cut carbon emissions by 40%, ie. 6.2 Mt annually, for just US$1bn, then we need to get the CEFC on to this technology quick sticks!
And that’s exactly what Josh is trying to make happen withon Tuesday that the Turnbull Government will seek to convince the Senate that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation should provide taxpayer funded loans to CCS projects.
Let’s dig deeper.
The Parish station has 10 generating units, only one of which has been upgraded with carbon capture, Unit 8. Of the 610 MW unit’s exhaust, 40% is diverted into a ‘post-combustion capture’ (PCC) system designed to capture 90% of the CO2 in that stream.
The facility, commissioned in January, is gearing up to capture 1.4 Mt per annum (Mtpa) or just 9.1% of the Parish plant’s total emissions, a far cry from the 40% claimed by the Minister for Energy and the Environment.
Unfortunately, it gets worse.
Carbon capture is an energy intensive process. The world’s first commercial scale plant, SaskPower’spower station in Canada — which after 2.5 years of operation is only just now getting close to its design capacity of 1 Mtpa or 18% of the plant’s — requires around 25% of the plant’s capacity be diverted back into the plant to power the capture and compression systems.
In the case of Petra Nova, NRG built a separate gas fired power station next to the facility to generate the electricity and steam needed to run the CCS process.
For all the hype, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there are hundreds of CCS power plants operating around the world and that Australia is coming late to the party.
In fact, there are exactly two commercial scale plants in operation globally, and they’ll soon be joined by a third — thein Mississippi, a small (528 MW) but innovative plant.
Kemper is three years late and, much to the chagrin of owner Southern Company’s shareholders and energy consumers in Mississippi, more than US$5.5bn over budget.
All three CCS power projects are designed to capture and compress part of their CO2 emissions and direct the majority towards Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) projects.
In the process, CO2 is injected into otherwise unproductive oil wells. The CO2 forms an emulsion with the previously unreachable oil and forces it to the surface where most of the CO2 is separated and reinjected back into the oil field.
Putting aside the somewhat Pythonesque proposition that CO2 being put underground to avoid warming the planet is being used to extract oil which will be burnt thereby warming the planet, it turns out the ‘sequestration’ part of the CCS process is itself compromised by EOR.
reports that for EOR in the Weyburn Field, where much of Boundary Dam’s CO2 will end up, only 70% is expected to remain underground, with the remainder escaping back into atmosphere.
Given these two degrading factors — high ‘parasitic’ energy demand for the capture process and significant carbon leakage in the storage component — the actual reduction of emissions from the Parish power station from NRG’s US$1bn investment is probably closer to 6%. Somewhat less than Josh’s 40%.
NRG’s CEOthat the Petra Nova CCS project “made both strategic and economic sense at $75 to $100 a barrel” and that “obviously [with oil selling for US$45 a barrel], it does not currently make economic sense.”
Given that US gas and renewables both halved in cost during the eight years it took to deliver the project, it’s no surprise that NRG has no current plans to invest in any more CCS.
Saskpower, owners of Boundary Dam, have no stated plans for more CCS, and theof the Southern Company, owners of the Kemper Project, make it clear that Southern’s C-suite wishes they’d never heard of the technology.
No other CCS projects are on the drawing board in the US (or Canada or Australia for that matter), so there’ll be nothing more delivered there this decade.
And with the Trump administration cutting CCS funding by 85% (both Petra Nova and Kemper received significant grants) nobody expects another CCS plant in the US before 2030 either. By that time the Parish Station will be 53 years old and in line for a gold watch.
Turning our thoughts back to Australia, if we wanted to capture all of the emissions of the Loy Yang power station in Victoria, we’d need a plant 13 times bigger than Petra Nova.
With currency and Australian labour rates, but allowing for some economies of scale and ‘learnings’, that would likely cost AUD$15–25bn. To put that in context, as of 30 June 2016, the total of all loans provided by the CEFC ever was almost $2.3bn.
It’s amazing how quickly we forget that we’ve been here before.
In 2006 Australia embarked on a project to build a CCS power station in Central Queensland called ZeroGen. Belying its name, the project was to expected to capture only 65% of its CO2 emissions, and at 390MW net, would have been Australia’s smallest coal power station by a country mile.
The central Queensland project received $188m in grants — $102.5m from the Queensland Government, $47m from Coal21 (ie. funds diverted from Queesland coal royalties) and $38.5m from the Federal Clean Energy Initiative. Abreathlessly proclaimed that the full-scale plant was to come on line in 2017 (this year!) and:
ZeroGen CEO Anthony Tarr said the full cost of the power plant project will be $1.7 billion – $500 million more than originally planned.
Originally estimated to cost at $1.2bn, detailed engineering studies yielded an revised estimate of $6.9bn. The project collapsed in 2011, taking with it hundreds of millions of public funding. Thank goodness taxpayers lost only $188m — Queensland came awfully close to building its own Kemper project.
Back to the Texas CCS project that Josh Frydenberg is so excited about. No doubt this expensive demonstration plant is an amazing feat of engineering. If we can put aside the fact that this exemplary CCS power project is helping the oil sector increase CO2 emissions, at best the project is making a very modest difference to the power station’s emissions.
Technically, it’s interesting. Economically, it’s a dog.
Note. Frydenberg’s office has been advised of this 666% overstatement and given the opportunity to correct the record.
Additional note: CCS as a technology has a lot of potential for reducing emissions from industrial processes, such as cement and steel manufacture and natural gas processing. It’s not the technology that’s a dog, it’s the application to power stations.
CCS is one arm of ‘clean coal’. For an analysis of the other arm, HELE, please see my answer to
Source: Quora. Reproduced with permission.