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ION Clean Energy and Calpine Announce First-Of-Its-Kind Carbon Capture Pilot Project

ION Clean Energy and Calpine Announce First-Of-Its-Kind Carbon Capture Pilot ProjectION Clean Energy and Calpine Announce First-Of-Its-Kind Carbon Capture Pilot Project
ION Clean Energy and Calpine Announce First-Of-Its-Kind Carbon Capture Pilot Project

For millions of years the Earth has absorbed excess carbon dioxide through its oceans, forests and rivers — that is until human activities threw that natural cycle out of balance.

Scientists have long worked to tip the scales back and slow the warming of the planet, but now with government grants, goals and tax incentives, some of the nation’s largest energy producers are also looking at ways to capture harmful carbon and safely store it far below the planet’s surface before it ever gets into the atmosphere.

One such test project is happening now at Calpine’s Los Medanos Energy Center in the East Bay. On Friday, Calpine, which bills itself as the nation’s largest generator of electricity from natural gas and geothermal resources, unveiled its first-ever carbon capture demonstration pilot at its Pittsburg facility that will test new technology that could capture nearly all of its carbon emissions.

“Today is representative of the environmental progress that’s always been a part of our DNA at Calpine,” Calpine CEO Thad Hill told the state leaders and many other guests gathered at the unveiling. “Our goal is to lead. We’ve consistently supported state and federal carbon reduction programs.”

Hill added that his company is focused on being a leading power company to decarbonize and is pursuing projects at a number of sites across the country.

“We have to remove carbon emissions,” he said. “And it’s important that it’s affordable for the families that are actually paying for their electricity.”

The pilot’s innovative technology, developed by ION Clean Energy, will capture and store carbon and make reducing greenhouse gas at existing power plants more practical and cost-efficient, company officials say. Under the process, carbon dioxide-rich gas moves into an absorption tower where a liquid solvent will bind with it, after which the carbon is piped for safe storage — and potential repurposing — a half-mile down into the Earth.

Pittsburg’s Los Medanos Energy Center was chosen for the pilot because it supplies both steam and power and runs a lot, providing more of a base-load operation for testing than Calpine’s other facilities, according to officials.

Andrew Awtry of ION Clean Energy said that while the process has been around for many decades, the results ION expects to see with its newly developed solvent and technology will be “truly unprecedented.”

“The solvent itself, it’s very stable, so it has a long lifetime; we can have a long operational period without the degradation of the solvent, or a decrease in the performance of the solvent,” Awtry said.

The process would capture as much as 95% of the carbon emitted at the 678-megawatt plant, he said. It would capture about 10 tons of carbon dioxide per day for approximately 13 to 18 months under the 1-megawatt test, company officials said.

The $25 million project is being funded mainly by a Department of Energy-National Energy Technology Laboratory grant while ION and Calpine will share the remaining 20% of the costs.

If it is successful, many believe the study will help provide valuable information and lead to the decarbonization of existing natural gas power plants across California and the nation.

Hill, meanwhile, called carbon capturing “important for successful energy transition” for the future.

“The deployment of carbon capture on (energy) plants, like the one sitting here — a plant that is reliable, that is safe, that is efficient — will really change the world,” he added.

The decarbonization process could also help Calpine — and others — achieve the state’s goals of no greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 as well as the Biden-Harris administration’s goal to achieve carbon neutrality — with as much carbon dioxide released as is removed — by 2050, and 100% clean electricity by 2035.

Long an advocate for decarbonization, California State Treasurer Fiona Ma is working closely with the governor’s office in cleaning and greening the environment.

“Today, it is my honor to just stand here and applaud Gov. Gavin Newsom for creating the first zero-emission carbon plan by 2045, with a goal of reducing air pollution by 71% by 2045,” she said. “And that doesn’t come easily.”

Liane Randolph, chair of the California Air Resources Board, can second that. Her board last December adopted the latest climate change plan, which lays out the economy-wide strategy to reach carbon neutrality by 2045 and to reduce carbon emission levels by 48% below 1990 levels by 2030.

“We know we’re in a climate crisis, we know we are feeling the impacts of climate change right now, and we know we need to take action,” she said.

Randolph called carbon capture and sequester a “critical tool” in fighting climate change, acknowledging that the transition to cleaner energy is “going to take some time.”

“This project can really give us the learnings we need to scale up this work. … Implementation is where it’s at. It’s what needs to happen.”

Secretary Wade Crowfoot, California Natural Resources Agency secretary, called the event a “big milestone” and an “important moment in time.”

“We know that California and Californians are on the frontlines of climate change,” he said, pointing to the state’s weather extremes, from catastrophic fires and drought to the wettest weeks on state record.

“So, increasingly, this is not the planet it was 10 years ago, and that will impact our lives, and probably more importantly, will fundamentally change the lives of our children and grandchildren,” he said.

“So, for all of those reasons, we have to move further and faster to protect Californians, protect Americans from these impacts of climate change, but also … build a brighter future. And we do that by reducing pollution, moving as much as we can beyond fossil fuels, and capturing pollution and carbon that we’re generating right now.”

“This is a big step forward — progress to celebrate with much more work ahead,” Crowfoot added.

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