• Combustion Industry News

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

Norwegian government planning to store Europe’s industrial carbon dioxide emissions in bold endeavour

The government of Norway is to fund the setup of carbon dioxide transport and storage infrastructure that it envisages will be able to store all of Europe’s industrial carbon emissions within five years. The breathtakingly ambitious plan is currently priced at €1.4 billion (US$1.67 billion) and will include the storage facility itself, subsea pipelines and ships to carry CO2; the Norwegian government’s hope is that if it provides the infrastructure, cutting out the need for European industry to develop its own, there will be a much greater incentive (or perhaps less disincentive) to pursue carbon capture at plants and factories. It also makes smart economic strategy for Norway – on one hand, it will help prolong the sale of Norway’s oil and gas, while on the other, the country presumably hopes to make a profit from the operation of the infrastructure scheme by charging industry for carbon dioxide ‘disposal’. It also leverages the fact that currently, CCS is the only option for significantly reducing carbon emissions from a range of industries, such as cement manufacturing. The undertaking, if successful, could have a huge impact on European CCS and industry more generally, delivering considerable environmental benefits.  Development of the scheme will be the responsibility of Gassnova, the state-owned company established in 2005 to pursue CCS technology.

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Hurricane Harvey disrupts US energy production and distribution

Hurricane Harvey has devastated Texas and brought flooding to the US Gulf region, with serious if short-term impacts on the energy sector in addition to the human toll. The winds and rain affected around a third of all US refineries, and wholesale gasoline prices shot up by around 13% during the worst of the crisis. Some national supply pipelines were closed down, resulting in a fleet of some 45 oil tankers been ordered from Europe to deliver supplies and the US Department of Energy approving the release of a million barrels of crude oil for refining by Phillips 66’s refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana. While the disruption caused by the storm was significant, the International Energy Association said it believed US reserves had plentiful fuel stocks to get through the disaster, though distribution of the stocks would be problematic. Antoine Halff from Colombia University’s Centre on Global Energy Policy saw a more serious state of affairs in terms of energy, writing the storm was “a powerful reminder that no country, no matter how large its oil and gas production may be, is fully insulated from the risk of an energy supply disruption. Indeed, the larger a country’s production volumes, the greater its risk exposure.”  The situation has certainly been much different to when Hurricane Katrina hit the US Gulf in 2005, when the shale revolution was in its infancy and the country was a huge net importer of gas. As various reports have acknowledged, it will take some time for the true impact on the energy sector to be able to be judged.

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Libyan oil production continues to suffer due to military conflict

Experiencing disruptions of a very different kind is Libya, with crude production dropping by around 30% after militants blockaded pipelines and closed oilfields. The ongoing conflict in Libya, begun as an uprising against the Gaddafi regime in 2011 and turning into a civil war after a NATO-led military intervention helped toppled Gaddafi, has created great instability in the country. Before 2011, Libya produced around 1.6 million barrels of oil per day, and dropped dramatically afterwards, recently recovering to around 1 million barrels/day, but the latest militant action has dropped that down to around 700,000 barrels per day.

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South Korea planning to fire more gas and use more renewables at the expense of coal and nuclear

South Korea has released a draft policy paper on energy which points to a future of firing more gas and producing more electricity through the use of renewables. The country currently fires coal for 40% of its electricity, produces another 30% by nuclear technology, and 5% through renewables. However, the policy aims for 20% by renewables by 2030 at the same time that total generation capacity increases by 4.7-9.5%, meaning an expansion of renewable generation capacity by more than three times what is already in place. Some coal-fired and nuclear plants are to be closed, meaning that new capacity which is not renewables is likely to be fired by gas. While LNG prices per unit of energy are significantly higher than for coal at the moment in Asia, South Korea looks set to push ahead regardless, particularly as more LNG supplies come online from the US and Australia, pushing LNG prices (which have already been falling) down further.

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EC has steel tariffs plans for Russian, Ukrainian, Brazilian and Iranian imports rejected

The European Commission has had its proposed steel tariffs rejected by some of its member states, with some states objecting to them being too lax and others to them being too harsh. Eurofer, the European steeling making industry body, had lodged a complaint to the EC about ‘dumping’ of cheap hot-rolled steel into the EU by Brazil, Iran, Russia and Ukraine, and the EC’s proposed response was to levy tariffs of up to 33% if prices were below €472.27 euros (US$568) per tonne. Chinese steel imports are already subject to 35.9% tariffs, but with no minimum price, and this might have been the sticking point for the members states who thought the proposed measures too lax.

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Clemson University researchers to shed more light on carbon cycle for pine and switchgrass as biofuels

Researchers at the Clemson University in North Carolina, USA have won a grant from the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to conduct a comprehensive study of the carbon cycle of switchgrass and loblolly pine as biofuels. Part of the study will quantify below- and above-ground carbon fluxes for the crops using measured data onsite, meaning the results will help to inform the debate around biomass as a sustainable/renewable energy source. Switchgrass can be converted into cellulosic ethanol for use as a biofuel, while loblolly pine pellets can be fired in thermal power plants along with coal. The researchers are Thomas O’Halloran and Pragnya L. Eranki.

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Investigation finds Australian coal-fired power plants often permitted to emit much higher levels than US, EU and Chinese standards

The Guardian has carried a report covering an Environmental Justice Australia investigation into permitted emissions for coal-fired power plants in Australia in comparison to standards in the EU, the US and China. Australia does not have a national framework for emissions; rather, each state sets different emission limits on a plant-by-plant basis. For ten plants presented in the report, particulate emissions permits range from 50-230 mg/cubic metre, compared to 50-100 in the EU, 125 in the USA and 30 in China. For SO2, Australian permits range between 820-2692 mg/cubic metre, whereas in the EU the limit is 400, in the US it is 1517, and in China it is 200; for NOx the Australian permits range between 407 and 2800 mg/cubic metre, while the EU and Chinese limits are 200 and the US’s is 875. While some of these are stark differences, mercury provides the most eye-popping comparison: four Australian plants have no permitted maximum at all, while others range between 30-1000 mg/cubic metre; in Germany, the limit is 30, in the US it is 1.5-14, and in China 30. The information, while startling, is complicated by reporting and monitoring of actual performance – the article claims that some Australian operators simply report the maximum permitted level of emissions when emissions are in reality in exceedance of permits, and similar issues are bound to affect monitoring and reporting in other countries. While the article does not contain much data on actual emissions, the same investigation also found that of the ten power plants surveyed, none of them feature best available technology, such as wet SOx scrubbers or catalytic reduction for limiting emissions of NOx, suggesting that actual performance is likely to be poor. Another consideration, however, is the fact that Australia’s large size and low population density mean that most people live well away from coal-fired power plants, meaning actual exposure to pollutants may be comparable to those in other countries. Regardless, it is clear that Australia is in need of more stringent and uniform standards, as emphasised in the EJA report, which concluded “Australia’s air pollution laws are weak, outdated, poorly monitored and inadequately enforced.”

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RWE to convert two Dutch plants to fire more biomass

RWE is to convert its Amer 9 and Eemshaven coal-fired power plants in the Netherlands to cofire biomass, according to the company’s most recent quarterly presentation. The government of the Netherlands has agreed to provide subsidies valued up to €2.6 billion (US$3.1 billion) over an eight-year period to support the retrofit and fuel procurement. Amer 9 has a capacity of 654 MW and current fires up to 35% biomass – the upgrade will push that ratio up to 80%. Eemshaven, which opened in 2014 with a total capacity of 1,554 MW, will after its retrofit be able to fire up to 15% biomass. Together, the two plants will be able to fire 2.4 million tonnes of biomass annually.

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Chinese government approves merger to make world’s largest utility

In news from China, the national government has approved a merger that will result in the largest utility in the world as measured by generation capacity. China Guodian, a power generator, and coal mining company the Shenhua Group have been given the green light to form a single entity, with their combined assets being estimated at US$236 billion (€199 billion). The move may have some effect on China’s overcapacity issues.

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A look back on history shows impact of electrification on belief in faeries in the British Isles

A blog post from Dr Ceri Houlbrook of the University of Hertfordshire in the UK earlier in the year looked at the impact of the rise of electricity in the British Isles on the belief in fairies, providing an interesting insight into the not too distant past. It was an apparently common belief at the time that the advent of electric light created conditions that repelled faeries, with one letter writer to the Western Morning News (covering the south-west of England) in 1938 saying that many people in her village used to see pixies in the past, but that she had not seen them because her home was “far too modern”. Beliefs also affected the installation of transmission networks. In Ireland, a rural engineer with the Electricity Supply Board recalled a colleague’s story of installing a power pole on the site of a faerie ring (a naturally occurring ring or arc of mushrooms, which in times past were believed to be the result of faeries dancing in a circle), where all but one worker refused to install the pole in the necessary position. The worker who did so – paid three times normal wages – was reported to have suffered an unexplained car crash adjacent to the site a few days afterward, giving strength to fears of disturbing faeries. (In fact, it appears that belief in faeries in Ireland has not yet been completely extinguished by the rise of electricity. The ruin of property developer Seán Quinn was attributed to his disturbance of the 4000 year old Aughrim Wedge Tomb – a faerie fort – in his native county Cavan, twenty years prior to Quinn’s bankruptcy.)  The blog post makes for offbeat but interesting reading, and is part of the University of Hertfordshire’s ‘Electric Generations’ project, which charts the cultural reception to the advent of electrification.

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