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Good Green News
Carbon Capture Closer to a Commercial Reality

When it comes to climate change mitigation strategies, carbon capture technologies are something of a holy grail. It’s not hard to see why, either: if we had a way to pull carbon dioxide—the greenhouse gas whose effect on global surface temperatures has so many scientists concerned—out of our atmosphere and either store it or repurpose it, we’d have something of a get-out-of-jail free card. There’s a facility outside of Houston, Texas that aims to do just that, by pulling CO2 emissions from a coal plant and sending those gases to nearby oil drillers to be used to help boost crude drilling productivity in a process called enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The FT reports:

[T]he use of carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery — squeezing more crude out of mature oilfields — has opened up a path to commercial viability for a technology that has been struggling to make headway.

Petra Nova is intended to capture about 1.4m tonnes of carbon dioxide per year at the WA Parish coal-fired power plant near Houston, sending it down a pipeline 80 miles to the West Branch oilfield, which is jointly owned by NRG, JX and Hilcorp, the US exploration and production company. There it is pumped into the reservoir to push out more oil, and the project partners are paid by selling the oil they produce. The US Department of Energy gave a $190m grant — a little under one-fifth of the project’s costs — but apart from that the project is entirely run on commercial terms, and can cover its costs at today’s oil prices of about $50-$55 per barrel.

Let that last sentence sink in: this this Texas-based carbon capture project can stay in the black at current oil prices. For environmentalists everywhere, that’s extraordinarily good news. It’s certainly more encouraging than the fact that the majority of new American power capacity brought online in 2017 is expected to be renewable—though you can be sure that most greens will focus on that latter development.

But in the wider scheme of things, commercially-scalable carbon capture technology has a bigger upside than today’s crop of wind and solar plants. Renewables are inherently intermittent, and the greater their share of an energy market, the more volatile the supply is for consumers. That means that if greens want wind and solar to supplant fossil fuels on the scale that will meaningfully reduce global carbon emissions, scientists are going to need to develop better storage capabilities and smarter grids, and policymakers are going to need to implement those self-same solutions.

Contrast all of that with capturing carbon, which would target the root of our modern climate change problem: greenhouse gas emissions. If more projects like the aforementioned one outside of Houston prove capable of profitably (or even near-profitably) removing greenhouse gases from our atmosphere and either storing or reusing them, we’ll have tackled this issue at its source, and the expensive, unwieldy, and unworkable policy recommendations of the modern environmental movement will become moot. We’ll be watching.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    It’s important to realize that this technology relies in part on belief that carbon emissions are bad for climate change. It relies in part on a commercial use for captured carbon. It does not rely at all on a continuing PR campaign to lie to individuals about the whole issue.

    • f1b0nacc1

      The technology doesn’t rely upon belief…only it’s marketing does. I can create a technical solution for a problem that doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t make the technology any less real.

      Nice try, but you failed again….

      • FriendlyGoat

        Write to TAI about it. You’re not on “my” site. You’re on theirs.

        • f1b0nacc1

          TAI didn’t pretend that technology relies upon belief in AGW, you did. Hence I called you on it….

          • FriendlyGoat

            Did you forget to read the article’s first sentence?

          • f1b0nacc1

            The first sentence of this article was:

            “When it comes to climate change mitigation strategies, carbon capture technologies are something of a holy grail.”

            The first sentence of the quote cited in this article was:

            “[T]he use of carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery — squeezing more crude out of mature oilfields — has opened up a path to commercial viability for a technology that has been struggling to make headway.”

            Is there another article you would like to refer to?

          • FriendlyGoat

            No, I thought TAI’s reference to “climate change mitigation strategies” would be enough for you. If you think they are idiots for bringing up such things, why do read them?

          • f1b0nacc1

            I think *you* are an idiot for suggesting that:

            “It’s important to realize that this technology relies in part on belief that carbon emissions are bad for climate change.”

            I think that TAI is foolish in their sad devotion to this silly religion, but then again they don’t try to pretend that belief in it is central to being able to develop useful technologies….something that you did suggest above.

            Do try to keep up…

  • Tom

    Quick note, before the people come in complaining about TAI embracing the climate change narrative.
    Anything that involves profitable ways of using waste products is a good thing.
    That is all.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Bravo…there are tons of good reasons to reduce emissions of from coal-fired power plants. The silliness of FG’s comment above shows how the Left tries to hijack perfectly reasonably technology to support their fantasies, but their ignorance shouldn’t blind us to the value of developing these technologies in the first place.

      • Frank Natoli

        I don’t believe the article above documents that either the coal plant or the oil drillers are MORE profitable by the coal plant redirecting the carbon emissions. If the cost of the coal plant redirecting the carbon output is X, and the oil drillers are paying the coal plant Y for the use of the carbon, do we know from the above article that X > Y or that Y > X? We don’t know. I’m betting X is a lot bigger than Y.

        • f1b0nacc1

          You may be entirely correct (though I cannot say for sure, I would guess that you are), and if so, then it is unlikely that the technology will be particularly popular. I am not suggesting cutting carbon emissions for the sake of it….we likely agree that AGW is the sort of pseudo-religious nonsense that only someone as dim as an environmentalist could believe…merely that technologies to reduce/eliminate waste are not necessarily bad ideas in and of themselves.

          For the sake of clarity, let me restate: If a useful cost-benefit analysis can be made for this (or any other) capture technology, I am all for it…if not, however, then it should be (and will be) ignored. The silliness of the eco-warrior left is that they want to put Mother Gaia above any sort of rational cost-benefit analysis in order to implement their own priorities.

  • Frank Natoli

    For environmentalists everywhere, that’s extraordinarily good news.
    So if Roman Catholics, such as myself, prevailed upon the federal government to require utilities to incur some cost, any cost, to satisfy some “requirement” of my religion, it’s OK with everyone as long as the utilities remain in the black?

    • ljgude

      That hit so far below the water line that I could perceive absolutely no disturbance on the surface. 🙂

      • Frank Natoli

        That is the principle of how torpedoes are effective. The water above is incompressible. The steel hull, no matter how thick, gives way.

    • CapitalHawk

      And Michael Crichton smiled.

  • Disappeared4x

    Once the CO2 emissions from coal push out the oil, does the CO2 stay buried below the oil, or does the CO2 do a 180, and ‘dig a hole to China’? Apologies for wondering how the CO2 emissions are permanently captured with this technology.

    • f1b0nacc1

      They aren’t permanently captured, but in terms of the timeframe we are looking at they might as well be. When CO2 is used for oil production, the most of the gas stays down there for quite some time, a significant fraction even bonds to the rocks as part of a rather complex carbonate. Some eventually bubbles to the surface, but this is a small fraction of the total, and it happens quite a bit down the road in terms of time.

      Short answer: it isn’t perfect, but it works. Frank has a more useful objection, i.e. that the overall cost still exceeds the potential gains in terms of selling off the recovered oil, so we are probably not at the holy grail of zero-cost CCS.

      • Disappeared4x

        Good to know “a significant fraction [of the CO2] even bonds to the rocks as part of a rather complex carbonate.” Thanks!

        • f1b0nacc1

          I wish I could have been more specific, but I freely admit that I am not a particularly talented chemist (even AFTER I spend the night at a Holiday Inn!), so I am loathe to dive into that. Apparently with enough heat and pressure, you can do some truly amazing things, though….

          • Disappeared4x
          • f1b0nacc1

            I needed that!

          • Disappeared4x

            me too – Keebler was amazing in agility trials!

          • f1b0nacc1

            Oh no! It has been a tough day in that strange domain called ‘the real world’…. I am still up working, which should tell you a lot…

            Thank you my friend…

          • CapitalHawk

            Add some time to your heat and pressure and you can even create a girl’s best friend.

            P.S. Disappeard’s photo made me think: Why is a girl’s best friend a rock and man’s best friend a dog? How does this square with the fact that girls are made of sugar, and spice, and everything nice, while boys are made from snakes, and snails, and puppy dog tails? Questions for the ages.

          • f1b0nacc1

            As Groucho Marx said “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend….Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read”

  • ARMSTROB

    I think it is great to see someone out there who is actually trying to solve a problem that has many people especially our politicians tied up in knots. What a boon to the economy if a simple, common sense fix like this is verified and all the money the left is trying to waste is saved. Obama wasted so much money in his quest to help out his campaign bundlers in the renewable resource industry that could have and should have gone to better uses. These are the same people who were saying the Earth was freezing back in the 70’s and wanted to dump coal soot on the North Pole to try and heat things up. Imagine what a mess that would have caused? No wonder so many people are skeptical.

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