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A Huge Carbon Capture Scheme Provides New Hope for “Clean Coal”

The plant will harvest 90 percent of the carbon dioxide it produces.
October 5, 2016

When it reopens later this year, the W.A. Parish Generating Station in Texas will be the largest coal power plant in the world with a retrofitted carbon-capture system. But the scheme is perhaps most notable for another reason: it’s on schedule and within budget.

As a report published by Scientific American explains, the plant will use a newly installed system to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide created during combustion. According to those involved with the development, the project has been kept on track by tight design and planning constraints imposed from the get-go.

Carbon sequestration approaches such as this one are the only way in which we can continue to run fossil fuel power plants while also meeting emissions goals such as those demanded by the Paris climate accord.

Construction under way at the W.A. Parish power plant in Texas last year.

But other attempts to build so-called clean coal power stations have so far been plagued with financial headaches. Notably, the Kemper project in Mississippi, initially priced at $2.4 billion, now looks set to cost over $7 billion. Peabody Energy was recently forced to file for bankruptcy after it had invested hundreds of millions of dollars into clean coal research and development.

It’s perhaps unfair to directly compare Kemper with the W.A. Parish Generating Station, though. Kemper is an entirely new kind of power plant that could act as a template for future fossil fuel plants. The project at W.A. Parish, on the other hand, bolts known technology onto an existing piece of infrastructure. Still, keeping its costs in check is a glimmer of hope for clean coal.

Don’t be fooled, though: just because it’s on budget doesn’t mean that it comes cheap. All told, a consortium made up of U.S. and Japanese energy companies and banks, along with the Department of Energy, has invested $1 billion into the scheme. Those huge costs will be recouped by using the captured carbon dioxide to force the final, stubborn pools of oil out of wells 82 miles away in Jackson County.

That oil, unfortunately, isn’t likely to be burned using carbon capture techniques.

(Read more: Scientific American, “A Mississippi Power Plant Highlights All That’s Wrong with ‘Clean Coal,’” “Peabody Energy’s Bankruptcy Shows the Limits of ‘Clean Coal’”)

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