• Combustion Industry News

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

Bloomberg analysis predicts peak fossil fuel use within a decade

Bloomberg New Energy Finance has predicted that the world will reach ‘peak fossil fuel use’ in 2025. The group mapped out energy use over the next twenty-five years, and found that the rise of cheaper, renewable alternatives to fossil fuel-firing will lead to the latter’s decline. There were several other interesting findings, including that there would be no ‘golden age of gas’ (because the prices of solar and wind are falling too quickly), that renewables will attract four times the funding of fossil fuel-based power generation up until 2041, that the rise of electric cars will aid power generators in developed economies by providing significant additional demand, that India will be the fastest growing polluter in the world, and that, despite the rapid rise of renewables, government policy will still be required to prevent dangerous levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The Bloomberg summary article provides several interesting charts.

Norway aims to be carbon neutral by 2030 if other countries follow suit

Norway has brought forward from 2050 to 2030 the date at which it aims to become carbon neutral, with the condition that it is reliant on similar pledges from other countries. The proposal was passed unanimously by the Norwegian parliament, which has also recently committed to zero deforestation. What the impact will be on Norway’s oil and gas industry, and its research into carbon capture and storage, is presently unclear.

Coal firing may be allowed in Britain beyond 2025

Meanwhile, in Britain, the Independent revealed last month that the government is considering allowing coal-fired plants to continue to operate past 2025 if their carbon emissions are considerably reduced. In November last year, in the run up to the Paris Climate Conference, energy and climate change secretary Amber Rudd pledged that the government would propose means of ending “unabated” coal firing within 10 years. During subsequent consultation and what the Independent describes as “impassioned lobbying” from the coal industry, the government appears to be refining its stance to one in which it may allow coal firing with CCS (which typically abates 90% of carbon dioxide emissions). The government source that briefed the Independent stressed that it is only a possibility at present, and that another possibility may require coal firing to be entirely free of CO2 emissions. Whatever the outcome of the consultation, it may be that the rules change again closer to 2025 depending on the then state of the energy sector.

Carbon dioxide made stone within months in Icelandic basalt layer

Icelandic scientists and engineers have surprised the world by demonstrating that CO2 pumped into geological formations of basalt can solidify within months. At the world’s largest geothermal power plant, Hellisheidi, outside Reykjavik, a project started in 2012 to reinject volcanic gases brought up when pumping out hot water from the earth. In the last two years, 95% of the 230 tonnes of carbon dioxide injected into the 400-500 metre deep basalt layer has solidified, a process that the team thought might take 8-12 years, and which in other rocks is expected to take hundreds or even thousands of years. The storage facility adds water to the volcanic gas stream (the carbon dioxide not being separated) in a ratio of 25 tonnes of water for each tonne of CO2, and the mixture reacts under pressure with the calcium, iron and magnesium that naturally occurs in basalt to precipitate out the carbon. The finding is a major boon for proponents of carbon capture and storage, as it goes part way to allaying fears that CO2 gas stored in geological formations would seep back into the atmosphere. Basalt makes up most of Earth’s seafloor, as well as 10% of the continental crusts. The euphoria around the findings was helped by the fact that for Hellisheidi, there were “no real extra costs” involved in the reinjection. How the findings might be applied to fossil fuel-fired CCS projects will now be a major topic of discussion.

GE unveils software for optimising power plants

GE has unveiled its Digital Power Plant for Steam, a software package that utilises data from around 10,000 sensors installed in a power plant in order to increase its efficiency, consequently reducing emissions. GE estimates that the technology will be able to increase a plant’s efficiency by up to 1.5% (and carbon dioxide emissions by 3%), and reduce down-time by 5% via real-time monitoring of factors such as fuel quality, the fuel-air mix, plant aging and ambient conditions, and process optimisation based on these. While the press release is somewhat unclear, it appears that GE plans to implement the technology and software across its European utility customer base. With the prospect of a significant efficiency gain and reduced emissions, it is sure to be of interest to many utilities.

Petrobras begins asset sale campaign in bid to reduce debt

Petrobras Brasileiro SA has begun a campaign to sell US$14 billion (€12.4 billion) of non-core assets as it tries to reign the US$130 billion (€115 billion) of debt which makes it the world’s most indebted oil company. Aiming to keep as core its offshore oil and gas production business, the company, which generates 10% of Brazil’s gross domestic product, is looking to sell distribution systems, hydrocarbon processing units, power plants and other operations, giving it the cash to develop new oil and gas fields which are amongst the world’s largest. Last week, the new Petrobras chief executive, Pedro Parente, who began work on 1 June, said that offers had already been received for its fuels-retailing unit BR Distribuidora SA. The planned sales come amidst a turbulent time at Petrobras, which has been the subject of a corruption scandal that led to the suspension of President Dilma Rousseff; two members of cabinet of interim President Michel Temer have already resigned after allegations they tried to inhibit the corruption investigation into the company.

Unit International wins US$4.2 billion contract to build gas-fired plants in Iran

Following the news item in the last edition of the Combustion Industry News about the Iran-Turkey agreement for a Turkish company to build power generation capacity in neighbouring Iran, it has now emerged that Unit International has secured a US$4.2 billion (€3.7 billion) contract to build seven gas-fired plants with a total capacity of 6,020 MW. The seven plants will be spread across Iran, and supply around 10% of the country’s electricity demand. The agreement was signed on 1 June

Engie considers Hazelwood closure or sale

Engie is considering closing or selling its 1,500 MW brown coal-fired Hazelwood power plant, close to Melbourne, in the Australian state of Victoria. Last month, Engie CEO Isabelle Kocher told the French Senate that the company’s plan is a gradual withdrawal from coal, having already sold plants in India and Indonesia and closed others in Belgium and the UK (reducing the company’s share of coal-firing from around 15% to around 10%). Hazelwood, opened in 1971, is considered one of the world’s most polluting plants, due to its fuel, age, and size, and it appears Engie’s first preference is to close the plant, selling only if Victoria declares that it needs the generation capacity. Ms Kocher also mentioned that converting the plant to biomass firing may be an option.

Court documents reveal Peabody funded at least two dozen climate change doubting organisations

Disclosures during Peabody’s bankruptcy filings in the USA have revealed that the company funded at least two dozen groups opposing environmental regulations and questioning manmade climate change. The Guardian newspaper examined the court documents, which were filed in May, finding that the receiving organisations included think-tanks, lobby groups, trade associations and ‘industry front groups’, amongst them the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, which described carbon dioxide as the “elixir of life”. No funding amounts have yet been revealed, but may be during the full course of the investigations. Environmental groups, long suspecting the Peabody was involved in such lobbying, nevertheless were surprised at its breadth.