Carbon Capture – what’s new?

How can we build super-clean coal plants that don’t emit carbon dioxide? My newest novel Backfill, features an environmental scientist named Mary Ann who works at a Utah coal mine and electric utility that will build an ultra-clean coal power plant using a technology called carbon capture.

What is carbon capture? It’s pulling carbon dioxide out of the plant’s stack before it reaches the atmosphere, compressing it and then either storing it in deep geological formations or using it for enhanced oil recovery. Read more in the article “How Carbon Capture Works”. Carbon capture systems (nicknamed CSS for carbon capture and storage) are very expensive to build and makes the plant less efficient overall. But the technology is available and was on track to becoming a vital part of the U.S. plan to combat global warming.

So what happened?  Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan had set the first nationwide limits on carbon dioxide (CO2) from electric power plants, the source of 35% of America’s total CO2. However, President Trump signed an executive order in March 2017 that called on the EPA to dismantle that Plan. And the EPA chief will do just that – this week  – according to the latest news reports such as  Reuters article dated Oct. 9.  Although the Plan had been tied up in the courts, it was going to help demonstrate America’s intention to help meet targets in the Paris 2015 global climate agreement. This agreement was made by 174 countries at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to reduce carbon output in order to keep global warming below 2 degrees Centigrade compared to pre-industrial levels. Trump has stated publicly that climate change is a hoax, and in June said the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

What does it all mean? In the absence of stricter climate rules, federal subsidies or a carbon market (plus the very high cost of installation), U.S. companies felt compelled to abandon plans to build plants with carbon capture and storage, such as the hypothetical near-zero emission plant in my novel, Backfill. Besides, electric power generation with natural gas (less carbon-polluting than coal) and renewables such as wind and solar, have taken coal’s place in the recent past.  But carbon capture is not dead! There are several plants operating in the U.S. today and 21 large-scale CCS facilities that are operating globally or under construction, according to the GCCS or Global CCS Institute. Some are in Australia, China, the Middle East, United Kingdom and Canada. Together these plants will be able to capture about 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. (For comparison purposes, the U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2016 were about 5 billion metric tons). A summary report “The Global Status of CCS, 2016” can be downloaded HERE.

Where are some carbon capture plants in the U.S.?  A $1 billion power plant called the Petra Nova plant near Houston came on line in January, 2017. The world’s largest post-combustion capture facility at an existing coal-power plant, it  draws over 90 percent of the CO2 produced from 240 megawatts which amounts to about 1.6 million tons of CO2 per year. The CO2 is compressed and sent 8o miles to an oil field, then injected in a technique known as enhanced oil recovery. The plant received a $190 million grant from the Dept. of Energy.

The Capitol SkyMine Plant run by Skyonic Corporation in my hometown of San Antonio takes carbon dioxide emissions from a nearby cement plant and creates products such as baking soda and bleach. It’s touted as the nation’s first commercial-scale carbon capture and mineralization plant. SOURCE 

Can carbon capture survive politics and high cost?  Hard to say. Obviously the technology must prove to be cost-effective, and the Petra Nova plant will be watched carefully for success. Also, it depends on the price of fuel and future tax breaks or incentives that might be provided for developing the carbon-capture technology, according to a N.Y. Times article entitled “Can Carbon Capture Technology Prosper Under Trump?” Some politicians are trying to introduce legislation to extend tax breaks for carbon capture projects. Read more about this subject in my Links below.

So I will conclude by saying:  Mary Ann, don’t give up! We just might build that near-zero emission plant that helps fight global warming!

I welcome comments on this blog posting!


  • America’s First ‘Clean Coal’ plant is now operational and another is on the way – The Washington Post Jan. 10, 2017  LINK
  • Carbon Capture Journal – The latest news – LINK
  • Eight Future Technologies for Carbon Capture – JWN March 8, 2017 – LINK
  • Indian firm makes carbon capture breakthrough The Jan. 3, 2017 – LINK
  • New Projects Show Carbon Capture is not dead –  IEEE Spectrum Jan. 16, 2017 – LINK
  • NRG’s carbon capture plant fully operational – Fuel Fix, Jan. 10, 2017 – LINK
  • The Potential for carbon capture and storage in China – International Energy Agency, Jan. 17, 2017 – LINK
  • What clean coal is and isn’t – NY Times, Aug. 23, 2017 – LINK
  • What to know about Trumps order to dismantle the Clean Power Plan – NY Times, March 27, 2017 – LINK
  • Why carbon capture and storage will never pay off – ZD Net, March 6, 2013 – LINK