The Houston Chronicle recently covered the NET Power Demonstration Plant. We came away with a few comments and reactions.

8 Rivers was pleased to see NET Power covered by James Osborne in the Houston Chronicle in July: Does Carbon Capture Have Life Yet?

The piece does a great job of introducing readers to supercritical CO2 in general and NET Power’s technology in particular. It’s also exciting to see coverage in the Houston region, where NET Power’s demonstration plant is currently being built.

We did observe several areas in the article where we think further commentary might be useful.

1. NET Power’s development timeline is much shorter than Mr. Osborne suggests.

“Even the most ardent proponents of supercritical carbon dioxide say if the technology is proven, commercial application is at least a decade off.”

Other technologies in the field might be moving along this timeline, but NET Power is already actively working on commercial deployment, which should occur in less than half the time suggested by Mr. Osborne. The company is in commercial plant development discussions with numerous utilities, power generators, and oil & gas companies in the US and around the world; some of those entities have already identified sites and specific projects for NET Power plants. Once NET Power’s demonstration plant comes online in 2017, the company will quickly collect the data required to move forward on its first commercial plant. Moving along this development pathway, the technology should be operating commercially in 2020.

2. The article suggests that sufficiently low-cost oxygen production is a technical hurdle NET Power must overcome, which is not the case.

“The technical hurdles begin with finding a cheap way to produce pure oxygen.”

Mr. Osborne is correct in identifying that oxygen is expensive to produce and has been the Achilles heels of many systems that utilize oxycombustion. In NET Power’s case, though, the technology utilizes well-proven (in fact, OLD) oxygen production technologies. So, from a purely technical standpoint, this is a completely proven part of the system. In addition, NET Power includes both the capital cost and energy requirements for oxygen production in all of its cost and performance numbers. Unlike other oxycombustion processes, NET Power has uniquely applied this process in an entirely new power cycle, called the Allam Cycle, that has a sufficiently high gross efficiency and low capital cost, enabling the technology to absorb the cost and performance impact of oxygen production while remaining competitive with conventional combined cycle systems. Exactly how the Allam Cycle accomplishes this needs to be the subject of its own post in the future- we’ll follow-up with that soon.

3. CO2 utilization and storage is also raised as a key hurdle, and NET Power believes this question can be readily addressed.

“Then, there is the matter of what to do with carbon dioxide once captured.”

Mr. Osborne goes on to rightly point out three primary approaches for utilization and disposal of CO2: enhanced oil recovery (EOR), which is a large market available today (and, we can include enhanced coal bed methane recovery (ECBMR) in this category); underground sequestration, which has tremendous potential for storage capacity and is the subject of important work by the U.S. Department of Energy and other agencies around the world; and algae feedstock, which is one of many potential future uses for CO2. Each one of these areas deserves their own post, but we will touch on them briefly here.

EOR is a large opportunity that exists today. ECBMR is also a highly viable option, but it has been practiced less. 8 Rivers has looked at how much CO2 would be required to recover the resources recoverable by these two methods, storing the CO2 underground in the process. A high level analysis suggests that these opportunities have the capacity to store ALL of the CO2 produced by ALL of the IEA projected fossil fuel capacity builds around the world from today until 2040. This topic definitely warrants an expanded discussion at a later date.

Underground sequestration, such as in saline formations, also has tremendous storage capacity. The IPCC Special Report on Carbon Capture estimates that, at the low end, accessible global saline formations are capable of storing at least 1000 gigatons of CO2!

Lastly, we believe CO2 utilization technologies will become a big opportunity. Like anything, the economic viability of many of these options is a function of the feedstock. The cost of CO2 from current CCS technologies is simply too high. NET Power’s low cost of Co2 will transform this landscape and enable an entire CO2 economy to develop. The National Energy Technologies Laboratory has a great graphic that outlines most of these potential uses:

In a short space, Mr. Osborne has covered some of the most important subject-matters around CCS and supercritical CO2, and we appreciate his focus on these important topics. We hope we were able to provide a bit more detail in a few key areas, and we’ll look to expand on several of these items in the future.