Can natural gas be used to generate less exhaust energy?

This article is a part of start overA series about young companies applying new science and technology.

LA PORTE, Texas – was not like in the movies. Nobody dropped a large switch on the wall, which produced a satisfactory “tunic” and a crack of electricity. Instead, one evening last November, a shift supervisor at NET Power, a clean energy technology company, repeatedly clicked the mouse on a dual-width trailer in the control room. With the last few clicks, the company’s generator is synchronized with the Texas grid, a major step toward delivering power to homes and businesses. Twenty-seven minutes later the supervisor cut off communication.

It may not sound like much, but a brief display at this demonstration plant – the power fraction of a full-scale facility – has shown a new way of generating electricity that burns natural gas but does not produce the same greenhouse gas. Exhausts, like fossil fuels, can play well in a country’s electricity grid.

Cam Hosie, who heads 8 Rivers, an early shareholder in NET Power, said he was observing the test on a laptop that evening. When the plant was in sync, he recalled: “I cried.”

This was an important milestone for NET Power, which has been working in the field of technology for 12 years. This synchronization – a dangerous consequence of matching network frequency and other characteristics – sparked a huge stream of interest as companies looking for cleaner ways to generate power began to license NET Power technology. Potential customers have announced plans for new plants around the world, including in the United States, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“If it is to be commercially deployed, it can play an important role, including in our ability to achieve net zero goals in the United States as well as globally,” said Carrie Jenks, executive director of Harvard Law School. Energy Law Program.

Most power plants boil water by burning coal or natural gas, or by nuclear fission; The resulting steam spins in the turbine. Combustion of these fossil fuels generates greenhouse gases, the main culprits of climate change. Scientists warn that if we can not stop these emissions, more terrible catastrophes lie ahead.

Renewable energy (such as solar, wind and geothermal energy) has risen dramatically as its price has fallen. But many experts suggest that the grid will still need power sources that can be switched on quickly – what trade calls “distributed” energy – to fill gaps in solar and wind supply. And while some researchers have suggested that the grid may be built entirely on renewable energy and storage, Professor Jenks said: “I think fossils will continue to flow into our energy system in the near future.” So, “you need a lot of solutions so that we can keep moving on the path that we have to take now. “We do not yet know what a silver bullet is – and I doubt we will ever find a silver bullet,” he said.

Fans of .NET Power say the company can make a difference: its technology burns natural gas without causing the biggest problems, usually with fossil fuels. It burns a combination of natural gas and oxygen in a high-temperature circulating flow of carbon dioxide under enormous pressure. The resulting carbon dioxide drives the turbine in a form known as a supercritical fluid.

Catching carbon dioxide in other power plants means adding separate equipment that consumes significant energy. The .NET Power system captures the carbon dioxide it generates as part of its cycle and not as an additive. Excess carbon dioxide can then be removed and stored in underground or other industrial processes. The operation of the plant does not generate harmful particles or smog-causing gases such as nitrogen and sodium oxides emitted by coal plants.

Is this just another by-product? water.

With commercial success, NET Power believes it will significantly reduce global carbon emissions, said Ron de Gregorio, CEO of the company. Many potential customers could still choose coal electricity, but “bring it to market safely and it will change the world.”

The company licenses its technology to its customers while its partners and investors build and operate factories. Among them is oil giant Occidental Petroleum, which bets heavily on carbon capture; A constellation that manages power plants; And Baker Hughes, which manufactures the kind of precision equipment that requires the process. Such an investment, said Rick Callahan, president of Low Carbon Ventures, a subsidiary of Occidental, “showed that people are investing their money in this project.”

Technology, like any power generating device, can be used in many ways, including in industrial power generation for industrial processes. Potential users are imaginative. One of the iterations of the process planned by the Belgian-based energy company TES offers the inclusion of NET Power technology in a complex chain of energy storage and generation as a way of delivering hydrogen-based energy. “NET Power technology is ideally suited to the proposed system,” said Jens Schmidt, chief technology officer at TES.

Another project proposed in Louisiana would use NET Power technology to produce a variety of products, including hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Known as the G2 Net-Zero, it also includes a liquefied natural gas export terminal, or LNG Charles E. Romer IV, chairman of the company, said that before many LNG export terminals were planned or under construction in coastal Louisiana, a treatment plant was built. An alternative can create a new paradigm.

The technology has drawn criticism, especially because of its reliance on methane infrastructure and current restrictions on carbon storage. Many environmentalists oppose LNG terminals, largely because they are expanding the use of fossil fuels; The Sierra Club recently targeted Southwest Louisiana, including G2 Net-Zero, planned for Cameroon, claiming they would cause serious environmental damage to the area.

“As long as the plant is powered by methane gas, it will continue to harm our climate and our community,” said Jeremy Fischer, Sierra Club’s Senior Strategic Research and Development Advisor. “This technology can do nothing to protect polluted households from massive – and often unaccounted for – methane leaks from wells, pipelines and factories. ”

Mr Rumer pointed to research showing that proper monitoring and prompt action could significantly reduce methane leaks, and said it would work with natural gas suppliers who “require emission reductions”. As for exporting LNG to burn elsewhere, he said anyone who gets its LNG can burn it at another NET Power plant and prevent greenhouse gas emissions. “I’m going to sell my product to people who are committed to the same issues that I’m committed to,” he said.

“The problem we are trying to solve is abundant, clean available energy,” Mr Romer said. “I do not understand how you can oppose what I am doing.”

If regulated countries become more profitable to capture and accumulate carbon dioxide, technologies like NET Power will become even more attractive. Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly mentioned carbon capture and storage as part of the climate change solution, details have not yet been worked out – and many in the climate science community are developing technology as an excuse to continue burning fossils. Fuel, not a bona fide effort for decarbonization.

“What are you doing with this CO2?” Asked Michael Mann, a climate scientist from Penn State University. “If it is used to improve oil recovery, it still contributes to the problems. If he is buried, how safe and forever is he buried? ”

Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Virginia Burkett, a leading scientist in the United States Geological Survey, said the carbon sequestration was a “proven technology” in deep geological formations, noting that the National Academy of Sciences called it “ready for large-scale deployment” in 2019.

Julio Friedman, an expert in carbon removal technologies, called NET Power technology “an incredibly elegant solution to a difficult problem.” However, Dr. Friedman, who served as a consultant to the company, said the success on a commercial scale was not certain.

“I have had many discussions with physicists who say: ‘Physics is solved; The rest is just engineering. ‘ Well, engineering is really hard. Theoretically, there is no difference between theory and practice. “It is in practice,” he said. “It is still possible that they lost, but I do not think so.”

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