• Combustion Industry News

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

Trump to pull US out of Paris agreement to renegotiate deal

US President Donald Trump has announced that the USA will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, joining Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries not to be part of the agreement. In making the announcement, Mr Trump argued that the current deal is unfair to citizens of the US, threatening their jobs, and that his responsibility is to the people of Pittsburgh rather than Paris. He also said that he intends to renegotiate the deal so that it would be fair. At the same time, he referred to other international agreements, saying “Many trade deals will soon be under re-negotiation.” No timeframe was set for the withdrawal, and there are conflicting reports about how long it could take. A recent report had suggested that because the US Senate had never ratified the agreement, it would be an easy process for the Trump administration to unwind. However, as the website Snopes writes, the matter is more complicated, as the agreement was made through an executive order by former president Barack Obama. It appears there are three options for withdrawal: one, that the US withdraws from the agreement in a process of around four years; two, that the US withdraws from the overarching United Nations Climate Program in general, which might take a year; or three, the US simply ignores the Paris agreement, as there would be no legal ramifications from doing so. Nevertheless, there are sure to be many other ramifications across the world, for example the report that the EU would bypass the federal US government and deal with individual US states instead.

Innovative Allam Cycle using CO2 as working fluid to be tested in Houston demonstration plant

Science magazine has carried a highly interesting article on a 25 MW oxy-fuel pilot plant being constructed in Houston, USA, for the start-up NET Power (the plant being co-owned by Exelon and Chicago Bridge & Iron). Firing natural gas with oxygen, the resulting flue gas will be almost pure CO2, which is to be used for enhanced oil recovery, and based on this, the plant is being billed as zero-emissions. But the plant is more interesting even than that. A redesigned thermodynamic Brayton cycle inspired by Russian research from the 1930s, in which CO2 is used as the operating gas/supercritical fluid, with pressures up to 300 atmospheres and temperatures up to 1150°C, is at the heart of the new plant. This new system has become known as the Allam Cycle, after its inventor Rodney Allam, a semi-retired British chemical engineer recruited by NET Power. While the cycle was originally invented for use with syngas from coal (calculations suggested it could raise the efficiency of a coal-fired plant to 56%), with advice from Babcock and Wilcox, NET Power decided to start with natural gas, as it would avoid the need to create syngas from the coal in the first place and the need to filter out sulphur and mercury. Major risks to the process include the CO2 turbine – a modified Toshiba steam turbine – which must work under intense conditions, and the new combustor (also reengineered by Toshiba). There is also the need for cryogenic refrigerators to cool air to produce oxygen and compressors to make the CO2 supercritical. However, there are other benefits to the system – the heat exchangers are smaller and cheaper, as are many other components, including the turbine, which is around 10% of the size it would need to be if steam was the operating fluid. Overall, NET Power plants are expected to take up a quarter of the land that a CCS-equipped coal-fired plant would take, and half of that a CCS-equipped gas-fired plant would. The smaller sizes correspond to lower capital costs; the expected cost of generating the electricity at the demonstration plant is a competitive US$0.06 per kilowatt-hour. If the pilot plant proves successful when it begins operating later this year, NET Power will embark on a 300 MW plant, to open in 2021. Many in the combustion industry will be watching with interest.

China also produces methane from sub-sea hydrates

Following the coverage in the last Combustion Industry News of Japan’s success with extracting methane from subsea methane hydrate crystals, the BBC has reported that China has also performed the feat in the South China Sea. In fact, the Chinese efforts appear to have outstripped those of the Japanese team, with much more methane being produced, according to Associate Professor Praveen Linga from the National University of Singapore. “Compared with the results we have seen from Japanese research, the Chinese scientists have managed to extract much more gas in their efforts,” he said. The article also gives some more information on the history and nature of methane hydrates. First discovered in the north of Russia in the 1960s, the crystals are frozen water which encase gaseous methane, making them a gas-solid mixture, and contain around 10 times the methane as shale deposits typically do. The discovery of the hydrates in the South China Sea in 2007 is thought to be a major reason behind the territorial disputes about the sea which are currently taking place, and it seems that the Chinese success in extracting methane may reinforce those motives.

OPEC extension to oil production cuts results in lower oil prices

OPEC decided in late May to extend its production cuts for another nine months, until March 2018. While designed to raise the price of oil, the market reaction was the opposite, with the price falling 5% towards US$51.50/barrel, because the market had expected deeper cuts. Other major oil producers outside the OPEC group, such as Russia, also agreed to extend production cuts, with all producers hoping for a similar effect to last year’s initial announcement of a production cut, which raised prices from around US$45/barrel to US$54/barrel. Looking at the longer term for the oil price, much might depend on the activity of North American oil shale producers.

Chancellor Merkel accused of hypocrisy over climate policies

A report by Handelsbaltt has examined what it describes as a hypocritical approach to climate change adopted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Around half of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions Germany has achieved since 1990 has been through modernisation of polluting industry in the former East Germany; as a whole, Germany is not on track to meet its goal of a 40% reduction in carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. In relation to this, Jan Kowalzig, a climate change analyst at Oxfam Germany said “There have been no remarks by the chancellor let alone countermeasures.” Ms Merkel has intervened to delay EU reforms on vehicle emissions to protect the German car industry, and has been criticized for failing to set out a timetable to phase out coal firing in the country. Further, reform of the EU’s carbon trading system has not progressed to a level that would incentivise low carbon technology, upper limits have been set domestically for the expansion of renewable energy and payments are being made to thermal power plants for standby generation capacity. The article is somewhat unfair, in that there are practical limitations to the expansion of renewables at present, and Ms Merkel’s coalition government last year approved the German Climate Action Plan 2050, which foresees the phase out of coal firing by 2030 or 2035. For a leading industrial country currently obtaining around 40% of its electricity from firing coal, such a target is highly ambitious.

Formosa’s Vietnamese steel plant suffers dust explosion

The new Formosa Ha Tinh Steel plant in Vietnam has suffered a dust explosion, only a day after its restart following a major environmental disaster due to a leak of toxic liquids. A spokesperson for the owner, Taiwanese firm Formosa Plastics Group, said that the dust explosion caused no injuries and would have little impact on the plant’s preparation to begin production, although the exact cause was unknown. The plant had been closed for over six months following a leak of phenol, cyanides and iron hydroxides last year which resulted in more than 200 km of Vietnam’s coastline being polluted, precipitating mass fish deaths and extensive disruption to the local fishing industry. Whether the troubled plant, which also faced fines for tax evasion last year, will manage to clean up its image and practices remains to be seen. The plant is scheduled to being production in the fourth quarter of this year.

Brazilian court orders Petrobras to supply gas to Electrobras despite outstanding debts

A Brazilian court has ordered the state-owned Petrobras oil and gas company to sell natural gas to the state-owned electricity company Electrobras for use at a new gas-fired power plant. Earlier in the year, Petrobras had refused to deliver the gas, citing huge outstanding debts (of around $US3 billion/€2.7 billion) from subsidiaries of Electrobras. Though the Reuters report does not mention the court’s reasoning, the supply of gas will not be enough to fully power the 590 MW Mauá 3 power plant, located in the Amazon region of the country. The plant is scheduled to begin operation this month.

E.ON looking to sell remaining stake in Uniper

E.ON has hired Goldman Sachs to look at options for the sale of its remaining stake in Uniper, the fossil-fired power company that E.ON spun off last year. The mother company currently has a 46.65% stake in Uniper, which at current prices is worth about €2.83 billion (US$3.16 billion), and although it does plan to sell it, it would not do so until 2018 at the earliest. How to do so is the question E.ON wants Goldman Sachs to advise upon – Uniper has an unusual structure and it is unlikely that an outright buyer could be found, although buyers for each part of Uniper might be. E.ON sold its majority stake in Uniper in September last year.