Plans under way for largest industrial carbon-capture project

Artist’s rendering of future Lake Charles Methanol facility. (Lake Charles Methanol, LLC.)A planned $3.8 billion methanol plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana, not only promises to be the world’s largest industrial carbon capture and storage facility but also the nation’s first petroleum coke (petcoke)-to-methanol plant and the first methanol plant to employ carbon-capture technology. The carbon, sequestered underground, will be sold for enhanced oil recovery in Texas, transported via commercial pipeline to Texas after it is compressed.

All told, the plant will annually sequester 4.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)

A number of firsts: DOE believes projects such as the Lake Charles Methanol plant will position carbon capture on the “cusp of commercial-scale development.”

Undertaken by the newly formed Lake Charles Methanol, plans received a big boost last month from the US Department of Energy (DOE), which conditionally allocated $2 billion in loan guarantees for the project, the first such contribution under the Advanced Fossil Energy Project solicitation issued by the DOE’s Loans Program Office (LPO).

The DOE has indicated that it believes carbon capture is on the “cusp of commercial-scale deployment” and that its loan guarantees could serve as incentive for future private financing of projects.

“This conditional commitment [to Lake Charles] represents a major milestone in the department’s efforts to scale up carbon-capture utilization and sequestration and continue American leadership in advanced fossil energy technologies,” US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said, according to a statement. “The department’s Loan Programs Office has received more than 70 applications to its current solicitations for almost $50 billion in loans and loan guarantees, which can allow projects to leverage additional private dollars for major infrastructure projects that will create thousands of good-paying American jobs and generate cleaner energy in the future.”

Big investment: DOE support of the Lake Charles Methanol Plant with $2 billion in loan guarantees “represents a major milestone in the Department’s efforts to scale up carbon capture utilization and sequestration and continue American leadership in advanced fossil energy technologies,” said Department Secretary Ernest Moniz.

“This project demonstrates how government and private enterprise can work together to support energy technologies that improve the environment while creating new jobs and economic development,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) said, according to a statement.

In all, the project is anticipated to create 1,000 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs in Louisiana, in addition to 300 jobs in Texas.

The DOE estimates the Lake Charles facility will emit 36 percent fewer greenhouse gases than conventional counterparts and capture more than 75 percent of CO2 emissions.

The project reflects ongoing efforts to pair carbon capture with other uses of CO2. “Essentially what we’re doing is decarbonizing oil,” Hunter Johnston, an attorney representing Lake Charles Methanol, told reporters. “We’re lowering the carbon impact of oil because we’re taking a part of the refining process that would otherwise be associated with CO2 emissions and we’re capturing that to produce more oil. So there’s this huge benefit of domestic production as a result of improving the environment.”

Big Difference: The Lake Charles facility will emit 36% fewer greenhouse gases than conventional counterparts and capture more than 75% of CO2 emissions.


However, the project — and others like it — haven’t been universally embraced. “While there is still time, we intend to fully push pack and make sure taxpayers aren’t left on the the hook for another fossil-friendly boondoggle,” Lukas Ross, a climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. Among the concerns of environmental groups: using captured CO2 to stimulate oil production is likely to lead to “an even greater supply of climate-polluting fuels,” Friends of Earth and more then 20 other environmental groups noted in a letter to Congress last year.

Petcoke, a by-product of oil refining, often is exported to other countries, where it is burned as fuel for power production, releasing greater amounts of CO2 than coal. Further, petcoke is burned in boilers that produce significant amounts of nitrous oxide, another pollutant.


— Louisana Governor John Bel Edwards

The Lake Charles project will employ gasification to convert petcoke to syngas and syngas to methanol. The facility also will produce hydrogen that will be sold for industrial uses.

Methanol is one of the world’s most widely used industrial chemicals, with applications ranging from paints and plastics to furniture and carpeting to automotive parts to windshield washer fluid and fuel blending.