Inside the plans for the UK’s ‘first net-zero power plant’

Joseph Flaig

8 Rivers' site in La Porte, Texas, where technology underpinning Whitetail has been tested
8 Rivers' site in La Porte, Texas, where technology underpinning Whitetail has been tested

From coal export to fabrication of oil and gas platforms, Teesside has long played a central role in UK industry and power. The area could now lead the way as the polluting industries of the past give way to low-carbon alternatives.

Billed as the UK’s ‘first net-zero power plant’, Whitetail Clean Energy is one of those new alternatives. The power station in Redcar and Cleveland, North Yorkshire, will generate up to 350MW of power with ‘virtually no emissions’ thanks to technology from US company Net Power, which captures and recycles carbon dioxide. Whitetail is part of the East Coast Cluster, a government-backed project that aims to use carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) to cut almost half of the UK’s total industrial cluster CO2 emissions. 

North Sea storage

The power station is a joint venture between Sembcorp and 8 Rivers Capital, which invented the Allam-Fetvedt Cycle. The process, which has so far only been demonstrated at Net Power’s test facility in La Porte, Texas, burns 4% natural gas and 4% oxygen in a combustor alongside CO2. The combustion process results in 925ºC, 300bar CO2, which is fed through a turboexpander to generate power. 

The still-600ºC CO2 then passes through a heat exchanger, a process that removes water from the earlier combustion. The CO2 is then repressurised, after which it can be exported for storage or commercial use – or recirculated back to the start of the process, as 95% will be, to be mixed with fuel and fed back into the combustor. 

The ‘semi-closed loop technology’ captures 97.6% of the produced CO2, with only a small amount of leakage through seals. The process needs much less fuel than conventional combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants, said Whitetail director Steve Milward.  

The Teesside site was the “ideal candidate” thanks to its existing grid and utility connections, said Milward. “It was one of those moments where, as a developer or as an engineer, you look at a site and realise you’ve got everything.”

The power plant will capture more than 725,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, much of which could be stored beneath the North Sea.  

The predicted performance is based on several pre-feed studies and information from the La Porte demonstrator, including modelling and simulation, which created the standard plant layout. 

‘No silver bullet’ 

Other utility companies and developers around the world are expected to announce their own plans for Net Power plants in 2023, said Milward, and an 8 Rivers pre-feed study has investigated wider roll-out across the UK. 

The company is confident that the technology can successfully slot into net-zero plans. “Government currently see us being dispatched just behind renewables,” said Milward. “The inherent nature of the technology is such that it can ramp up very, very quickly. It’s very, very reactive to the load coming down from renewables.”

Using syngas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide) from biomass could even make the technology carbon negative, he said. “No one’s saying we’ve got the silver bullet, we haven’t. But we’re in a transition period, and that transition period is going to run for a long time.”

A two-year construction project is planned from 2024. The partners hope Whitetail could be operating in 2027, along with the rest of the East Coast Cluster and the planned offshore sequestration.

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