• Combustion Industry News

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

Japanese CoolGen demonstration plant aiming for 55% coal-firing efficiency with 30% lower carbon emissions

The Nikkei Asian Review has reported on CoolGen, a new coal-fired demonstration power plant using integrated gasification fuel cell technology developed in Japan, which the article claims will be able to fire coal at up to 55% efficiency while emitting 30% less CO2 (assumedly on a kWh basis). The IGFC process first gasifies coal, then cleans up the syngas, expands it (producing some electricity), puts it through a fuel cell at high temperature (producing some electricity), then finally oxy-combusts the resultant gas, again producing electricity. The use of the fuel cell at high temperatures allows the gas passing through it to be impure, a mix of carbon monoxide and dioxide as well as methane and hydrogen. Incorporating gasification, the process can be run using low-grade coal, reducing operating costs, though the capital costs are estimated at around 30% higher than those of plants running on conventional technology. The demonstration plant using components developed by Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, JGC and Diamond Engineering is about to commence operation on the island of Osakikamijima, near Hiroshima, and is to run for 5000 hours; if successful, a commercial plant will be built in the first half of the next decade. The combustion industry will be watching with interest.

Meanwhile, Japan’s first carbon storage project is being run at Tomakomai in northern Japan, where CO2 from a hydrogen producing refinery is piped 5.8 km into a subsea rock formation. The initiative, known as Japan CCS, is a partnership between 35 Japanese companies, including Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal. In a world first, it involves pipe laid at an angle.

US Secretary of Energy aims to push clean energy while ensuring baseload capacity

Rick Perry, the US Secretary of Energy, has released a statement regarding the US’s approach to clean energy, in which he says that rather than “preaching” about clean energy, the US will actually deliver it. He points to the experience of Texas (which he governed for 14 years), which reduced emissions of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide significantly while growing the number of jobs in the state and turning Texas into the world’s sixth largest generator of wind energy. The statement also references the shale revolution in Pennsylvania. There are no accompanying policies to the statement, but it does at least serve as a statement of purpose for a cleaner environment.

Separately, Mr Perry has initiated a study by the Department of Energy “to explore critical issues central to protecting the long-term reliability of the electric grid”, which has as its focus compensation for baseload power generation capacity. The goal of the study is to provide the factual basis for policies that to “protect the nation’s power grid”; such policies are to be guided by the principles of “reliability, resiliency, affordability, and fuel assurance.” Conventional power producers in the US are likely to welcome the initiative.

BP report finds energy demand relatively flat for third consecutive year

BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy report was released in mid-June, and indicated that global energy demand remained relatively flat for the third consecutive year, growing by just 1%. China’s growth in energy demand was at 1.3%, a slight uptick from 2015’s 1.2%, and most growth came from developing countries. Globally, energy supply from solar and wind rose by an astonishing 12% (albiet to reach a modest 4% of the world’s total energy supply), while the proportion of coal in the world’s energy mix in 2016 was the lowest, at 28%, since 2004.

Australia’s chief scientist releases recommendations for future energy supply as Australia’s largest coal mine is given investment decision

Another government pursuing a reliable electric grid with increased fuel security and lower emissions is the Australian government. Its chief scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, presented a report to a combined meeting of state and federal leaders in mid-June which proposed a range of policy measures to be taken up by the state and federal governments. Gaining the most attention has been the introduction of a ‘clean energy’ target,  in which electricity retailers would be obliged to sell a certain portion of electricity derived from ‘clean’ sources. The definition of ‘clean’ is emitting less than 700 kg of CO2 per MWh of electricity produced, edging out the most advanced coal power plants (except perhaps those which are currently in development) unless equipped with carbon capture and storage, but including most gas-fired plants. In addition, it is proposed that owners of large power plants will be required to give three years’ notice before any plant closure to avoid unexpected shortfalls in generation capacity and to allow prospective power providers to tap into opportunities. New generators would be obliged to maintain certain voltages and frequencies (which seems aimed at wind and possibly solar power generators), and also required to guarantee certain levels of supply (which may necessitate battery storage or some mix of generation technologies). There are also recommendations for system-wide grid plans and an annual check of the grid by an ‘energy security board’. The report was not immediately endorsed by the federal government, with ministers saying it did not constitute government policy, amid concerns the recommendations would lead to higher power prices, while they also drew criticism for not doing enough to meet Australia’s commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Around the same time as the release of the report, Australia’s largest coal mine, to be built to the west of Rockhampton in the state of Queensland, received a positive final investment decision by the company planning it, the Indian firm Adani. The Carmichael coal mine has been the subject of fierce debate, protests and legal challenges since it was first proposed, and has had to rely on a AU$900 million (US$ 679 million/€606 million) loan from the Queensland government to proceed. Opponents argued that proceeding with the mine would be an act of climate suicide, while it appears that the prospect of job creation and a claimed AU$2.97 billion return to the Queensland economy each year persuaded both the state and federal governments. It is estimated that over a 60 year lifetime, the mine would produce 2.3 billion tonnes of black coal.

US DoE commissions studies into extraction of rare earth elements from coal plant byproducts

The US Department of Energy has commissioned three new research projects into the recovery of rare earth elements from coal and coal by-products. With the 17 elements that constitute the rare earth elements group becoming more strategically important, and China hugely dominating their supply (the US did not produce any in 2016), it appears that the US wants to stimulate domestic production of the metals. Two of the three research projects will include consideration of coal-fired power plant by-products, which may open an additional revenue stream for such plants.

CCS ‘insider’ says technology will never be commercially viable for coal

A former commercial manager with the Australian Carbon Capture and Storage Co-operative Research Centre has given an interview saying that CCS technology for coal-firing will never become commercially viable. David Hilditch worked for the organisation for 12 years, and was part of the team that helped equip the Gorgon natural gas project in Western Australia with CCS. His view was pithily expressed: “Carbon capture and storage is a hugely expensive process, finding geological storage sites is extremely difficult and it’s a tough job for scientists to prove [they will be effective], and industry has walked away.” While he did concede that CCS for oil and gas may sometimes prove commercially viable, he insisted that it would never be the case for coal. Only time will tell if Mr Hilditch is proven right; certainly the enormous amount of research and development underway around the world will offer new possibilities for coal.

GE to continue to pursue digital strategy under new CEO

The new CEO of General Electric, John Flannery, has said that the company will not be retreating from its digital strategy, even if it proves uncomfortable for some of its customers. GE has invested heavily in becoming the leader in digitizing the industrial sector (for instance equipping power plants with thousands of sensors in order to provide extra efficiency through control), and while the strategy seems to have worked in the pharmaceutical sector, the power generation sector appears to have been less embracive to date. GE estimates that only 30% of European industrial companies analyse data from their equipment, and is looking to tap into that opportunity.

Kansas City Power & Light to retire aging units

Kansas City Power & Light has announced that it will retire six coal-fired power generation units with a total of 900 MW output capacity at its Montrose, Lake Road and Sibley stations in Missouri. The retirements will be completed by the end of 2019, though the bulk are to take place next year, with the units 50-year ages playing a major role alongside stagnating demand, environmental considerations, and competition from natural gas, wind and solar.