October 5, 2023


World’s Largest Carbon Capture Facility: Game-Changer or Fossil Fuel Smoke-Screen?

In the race to Net Zero, the construction of the world’s largest carbon capture facility in Texas exposes all the contradictions of the energy industry in one emblematic project.

The importance of the Petra Nova plant cannot be overstated. By burying the CO2, its backers believe they can eliminate the biggest single criticism of fossil fuel consumption. Bloomberg breathlessly reported it would sequester  “1.4 million tonnes” of carbon per year.  This sounds like a lot, and The Guardian report says “The plant will inject 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the ground each year.” Whichever,  its success would be a proof of concept for the fossil fuel industry. Hundreds more plants would follow, say the owners, JX Nippon. But a careful look at their figures shows their claims just do not add up.

Positioned as a crucial solution to avert climate catastrophe (if it actually works)  the “$1bn” facility aims to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from a nearby coal-fired power plant.  Petra Nova began operating in 2016 at the power plant in Texas, and shut down less than four years later after a fire (and following a plunge in oil prices during COVID-19).  It restarted on Sept. 5,  JX Nippon said last month.

The W.A. Parish Generating Station is a 3.65-gigawatt (3,653 MW), dual-fired power plant located near Thompsons, Texas. The station occupies a 4,664-acre site and consists of two four-unit plants; one natural gas and the other coal (2,697 MW).  With a total installed capacity of 3,653 MW, it is the second largest conventional power station in the US, and supplies about fifteen percent of the energy in the Houston area. Critics argue it was initially responsible for the rolling blackouts of the 2021 Texas power crisis.

As mentioned above, and reported in breathless tones by Bloomberg, the carbon capture plant claims it can bury 1.4 million tonnes a year – but the coal-fired power station emits over 16 million tonnes per year, (assuming it is operating at 70% capacity). And the Gas-fired plant would emit another 3 million tonnes (at 70% capacity). So the claims of 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 per year, which Reuters reports as a target but Bloomberg report as an actuality, is less than 10% of total emissions from the power plant. It would require another $9 billion of investment just to sequester all the CO2 from this plant alone.

With some viewing carbon capture as nothing more than a distraction backed by the fossil fuel industry, the above analysis shows the maths of the Petra Nova project  just dont add up. If it wasnt for the government subsidies the plant would not make anything like enough to pay for itself, and produce a return on investment.

So if the Petra Nova project really is a huge white elephant, then what is it all about really?  Why would some …

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