Skip to Content
Climate change

A game-changing carbon-capture power plant just passed its first big test

Net Power announced today that it successfully fired up a pilot plant near Houston that takes an entirely new approach to capturing carbon dioxide. The news marks a critical first test for a system that promises an economical path to cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.

What does that mean? The 50-megawatt natural-gas facility will put carbon dioxide to work, using heat and pressure to turn it into a “working fluid” that drives a specially designed turbine. That replaces the traditional steam cycle in power plants. Excess amounts of the gas can be siphoned off during the process, ready to ship and sell.

The “first fire” shows that the combustion process and integrated system works, a validation of the basic approach. But the company isn't using carbon dioxide to turn the turbine or actually producing power yet, which will represent the next major test.

What’s the big deal? To date, adding systems that can capture emissions from power plants has been complicated and expensive, jacking up the cost of producing electricity. Net Power expects that after it builds a few commercial-scale plants, it will be able to beat the costs of standard natural-gas plants.

That means the technology could provide a cheap, clean, and flexible source of power for the grid, capable of ramping up and down with demand more easily than standard solar and wind plants can. That promise is why energy researchers have been closely following the $140 million demonstration plant—and why MIT Technology Review placed the facility on its 2018 list of 10 Breakthrough Technologies.

What’s next? Once Net Power is able to demonstrate the full sytem works as hoped, it intends to license the technology. The company is already in talks with potential partners and customers, and it hopes to flip the switch on 300-megawatt commercial plants as early as 2021.

This post has been updated to clarify what the "first fire" accomplished. 

Deep Dive

Climate change

This CRISPR pioneer wants to capture more carbon with crops

New research at Jennifer Doudna's institute aims to create faster-growing, carbon-hungry plants using the gene-editing tool.

giant kelp underwater
giant kelp underwater

Running Tide is facing scientist departures and growing concerns over seaweed sinking for carbon removal

The venture-backed startup believes kelp could be a powerful tool to combat climate change. But some scientists fear the ecological risks on large scales.

biomass with Charm mobile unit in background
biomass with Charm mobile unit in background

Inside Charm Industrial’s big bet on corn stalks for carbon removal

The startup used plant matter and bio-oil to sequester thousands of tons of carbon. The question now is how reliable, scalable, and economical this approach will prove.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.