The business model for carbon capture is broken

In the months since the pandemic cratered the price of oil, the financial fallout has spread from drilling companies to refineries and oilfield maintenance companies. Now the crash has claimed another, more unlikely victim: The only system built to capture carbon emissions from a coal plant in the US, one of only two worldwide.

The $1 billion system, known as Petra Nova, was built in 2017 to catch CO2 from one unit of a coal plant near Houston. That plant is one of the dirtiest in Texas, both in terms of climate and air quality impacts, according to a Rice University study. Petra Nova was meant to cut the unit’s carbon footprint by about a third—roughly the equivalent of taking 300,000 cars off the road each year.

But on July 28, E&E News broke the story that the facility has been shuttered since May. And while the plant’s owners have said they plan to get it running again once the economy improves, Petra Nova’s shutdown exposes the weird market dynamics that could threaten the sustainability of carbon capture facilities in progress around the world.

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