Clean Coal: Carbon Capture and Enhanced Oil Recovery

Petra Nova2


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of Energy Rick Perry took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony today to mark the opening of Petra Nova, the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture project, which was completed on-schedule and on-budget. The large-scale demonstration project, located at the W.A. Parish power plant in Thompsons, Texas, is a joint venture between NRG Energy (NRG) and JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corporation (JX).

“I commend all those who contributed to this major achievement,” said Secretary Perry. “While the Petra Nova project will certainly benefit Texas, it also demonstrates that clean coal technologies can have a meaningful and positive impact on the Nation’s energy security and economic growth.”

Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and originally conceived as a 60-megawatt electric (MWe) capture project, the project sponsors expanded the design to capture emissions from 240 MWe of generation at the Houston-area power plant, quadrupling the size of the capture project without additional federal investment. During performance testing, the system demonstrated a carbon capture rate of more than 90 percent.

At its current level of operation, Petra Nova will capture more than 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per day, which will be used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) at the West Ranch Oil Field. The project is expected to boost production at West Ranch from 500 barrels per day to approximately 15,000 barrels per day. It is estimated that the field holds 60 million barrels of oil recoverable from EOR operations.

The successful commencement of Petra Nova operations also represents an important step in advancing the commercialization of technologies that capture CO2 from the flue gas of existing power plants. Its success could become the model for future coal-fired power generation facilities. The addition of CO2 capture capability to the existing fleet of power plants could support CO2 pipeline infrastructure development and drive domestic EOR opportunities.

U.S. Department of Energy

The Petra Nova carbon capture system was installed in the W.A. Parish generation station.  This is the largest and cleanest fossil fuel generaton station in the United States:

W.A. Parish Electric Generation Station, Thompson, Texas

Owner/operator: Texas Genco Holdings Inc.

Texas Genco has invested heavily in upgrading its W.A. Parish coal- and gas-fired plant southwest of Houston. Although this nine-unit, 3,653-MW plant is the largest fossil-fueled plant in America, its NOx emissions have been reduced to microscopic levels. Based on those levels, W.A. Parish could rightly claim that it is among the cleanest coal plants in the U.S.

Texas Genco’s W.A. Parish Electric Generation Station (WAP) is the largest coal- and gas-fired power facility in the U.S. based on total net generating capacity. It and its owner, Texas Genco Holdings Inc., operate in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), one of the largest electric power markets in the nation. Over the past few years, the majority-owned subsidiary of Houston-based CenterPoint Energy Inc. has met the challenge of adding emissions control equipment to these baseload units while maintaining the availability and reliability required by ERCOT’s competitive market.

In the process, Texas Genco has emerged as an industry leader at reducing emissions and demonstrating new NOx-control technologies. The company’s fleet of plants operates at one of the lowest NOx emission rates in the country, and WAP likely emits less NOx on a lb/MMBtu basis than any coal-fired plant of any size in the U.S. Cleanliness is costly; the company has spent more than $700 million on new emission controls since 1999.

With the commissioning of another round of emissions-control equipment this year, NOx emissions from Texas Genco’s Houston-area power plants—including WAP—will be 88% lower than 1998 levels. These actions play a major role in the Houston/Galveston Area Ozone State Implementation Plan and are helping to clean the air in the greater Houston area. To honor the accomplishment, the W.A. Parish plant was recently given the Facility Award by the Power Industry Division of the Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society (Research Triangle Park, N.C.) for installing equipment to reduce emissions and improve reliability while minimizing operational costs.



The W.A. Parrish Generation Station has a generating capacity of about 3,660 MW (2,740 MW of coal and 1,190 MW of natural gas capacity).  Its total capacity is approximately the same as the ten largest solar PV plants in the U.S. combined (3,713 MW).  From 2002-2009, W.A. Parrish operated at 85% of capacity.  The war on coal gradually reduced its operations to 57% of capacity in 2016.

The Petra Nova carbon capture system will enable the plant to capture about 90% of the CO2 from 240 MW of its coal capacity.  It is expected to capture about 1.6 million tons of CO2 per year.  The cost of the carbon capture system was approximately $1 billion, with the taxpayers picking up 19% of the tab.  Normally, I would call this a pointless waste of money.  It won’t have any effect on atmospheric CO2 or the weather.  However, this carbon capture system actually serves a useful purpose:


NRG Petra Nova Fact Sheet

The Captured CO2 will employ Enhanced Oil Recovery to enhance production at the West Ranch oil field, which is operated by Hilcorp Energy Company. It is expected that oil production will be boosted from around 300 barrels per day today to up to 15,000 barrels per day while also sequestering CO2 underground. This field is currently estimated to hold approximately 60 million barrels of oil recoverable from EOR operations

How Carbon Capture Works

The Carbon Capture and Enhanced Oil Recvoery Project
The Carbon Dioxide Capture Process
Beneficial use of the captured Carbon Dioxide

Download high resolution images


The West Ranch oil field has produced about 390 million barrels of oil since 1938. CO2 injection will boost the production from 300 to as much as 15,000 barrels of oil per day.  The EOR could lead to the recovery of 60 million barrels of oil that would otherwise be “left in the ground.”  Irony is such a beautiful thing!  

And the really cool thing about this project: It makes money!


NRG’s Petra Nova Plant Captures Carbon, Boosts Bottom Line

An interview with David Greeson, Vice President of Development, NRG Energy Inc.

by Brian Wellborn

NRG Energy Inc. (NRG) and JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration jointly operate the Petra Nova Carbon Capture project, the world’s largest retrofit post-combustion carbon capture system, at the W.A. Parish Generating Station southwest of Houston.

Fiscal Notes recently spoke with NRG Vice President of Development David Greeson to discuss the Petra Nova project and learn what makes its capture system unique, environmentally sound and profitable.

Fiscal Notes: What are Petra Nova’s broad environmental goals?

David Greeson: The goal of the Petra Nova project is to capture more than 90 percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) in the exhaust flue gas from an existing coal-fired unit at the W.A. Parish power plant. We want to prove it’s feasible to build a carbon capture system on schedule and on budget. Demonstrating the system working at full commercial scale will provide a path forward to address CO2 emissions from existing coal-fired plants, both in the U.S. and around the world.

In addition, we’re looking to create a commercial structure that couples power generation with oil recovery for potential long-term viability — not only to pay for the carbon capture and storage system but also to provide an economic return for investors.


Fiscal Notes: How economically viable is Petra Nova’s carbon capture process?

Greeson: As long as oil is priced at around $50 per barrel or above, sales of the oil from the West Ranch field will pay for the Petra Nova project.



The price of CO2 for EOR projects is generally pegged to the price of oil.  At >$50/bbl, the sale of the CO2 to Hilcorp will pay for the carbon capture system.  Projects like this do not need subsidies.

This will enable the coal-fired plants to operate at a higher capacity and prevent 60 million barrels of oil from becoming “stranded assets.”  I just love irony!


One Response to “Clean Coal: Carbon Capture and Enhanced Oil Recovery”

  1. Steve Maley Says:

    Nice article, cool project.

    Just a point of clarification — when you say…

    “At >$50/bbl, the sale of the CO2 to Hilcorp will pay for the carbon capture system. Projects like this do not need subsidies.”

    “This” in that last sentence refers to the CO2 flood only, or the project in its entirety? Because the carbon capture end still benefits from DoE assistance.

    It would be interesting to know how much $$ DoE is kicking in and just how critical those funds were to make the total project economics work.

    Also, what is the overall carbon balance of the transaction? What happens to the CO2 after Hilcorp’s project runs its course?

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