• Combustion Industry News

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

MIT Technology Review finds global efforts to combat climate change an order of magnitude too small

The MIT Technology Review has taken a step back and looked at progress towards meeting the goal of limiting global average temperature rises to 2oC, pointing out that progress since 2003 has been around an order of magnitude too slow (if progress is considered in a linear fashion). A paper in Science in 2003 estimated that around 1,100 MW of carbon-free energy needed to be added worldwide each day to meet the goal; since 2003, the average installation rate has been about 151 MW. The real-world factors preventing faster rollout are many. Limited political will and consequent weak governmental support, driven at least partly by a general unwillingness to pay for change on the part of citizens, is one factor, and one that in some ways is getting worse – US citizens would these days be willing to pay US$5/month to ‘solve’ climate change, down from $10 or $15/month in earlier years. The feedback delay from emissions to negative effects, which can be decades, is another complicating psychological factor. The sheer effort in building the enormous quantity of low/zero-carbon power generation required over the next three decades, likened to Second World War efforts, is one more. The fact that so much money has already been invested in conventional power generation capacity adds to the challenge – companies understandably want to achieve a return on the money they have already spent. The increasing consumption of the developing world is also a factor – by 2040, China by itself is expected to need to add as much power generation capacity as is currently installed in total in the US. The technical challenges and expense in developing carbon capture and storage, energy storage, and longer transmission networks (to help balance out the intermittency of wind and solar energy) is another. The challenge of electrifying other parts of the economy – transport, aviation, etc – is yet one more, and even then leaves the challenges of land-use and agriculture. Put together, the task becomes highly daunting, but one which would be much more costly to the world not to address. It is worth remembering, too, that progress could accelerate in coming decades.

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Bloomberg New Energy Finance blog describes current challenges to low-carbon pathway and some reasons to be optimistic

A long blog post by Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance has given another perspective on a low-carbon energy future, written in the context of the idea of a ‘Three-Third World’, where ”by 2040 one third of global electricity will be generated from wind and solar; one third of vehicles on the road will be electric; and the world’s economy will produce one third more GDP from every unit of energy.” The article is clear-headed about the current challenges facing the expansion of renewable energies – the difficulty in providing enormous peak levels of heating demand in cold countries where domestic heating equipment is non-electric, the limited amount of battery storage expected to be installed even by 2030 (enough for only 7.5 minutes of global electricity demand), the “alarming” costs to enable very high levels (~60%) of renewables in a grid chief amongst them. It is more optimistic, but perhaps less clear-headed, about future possibilities for working towards climate goals: the continuing fall in prices for wind, solar, and battery storage, the opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of new buildings (though this is tempered by the difficulty in retrofitting existing buildings), the potential for generating heating through biomass and biogas, the expected rise in light electric vehicles, and the emergence of new technologies – for instance small nuclear and the Allam cycle. It also points to needs such as the development of carbon capture and storage, for carbon prices that will give appreciable incentives. Furthermore, it sees a significant role for hydrogen as a means of energy storage for rapid energy release during peaks, but questions the wisdom of deploying more nuclear power plants of the current variety due to their cost. While it is critical of the use of hydrogen for transport, it offers no alternative for heavy transport – trucking, shipping and aviation. Overall, the article contains a range of interesting insights and is well worth reading.

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Taiwan to modernise coal fleet

Taiwan is to upgrade and/or construct a number of coal-fired power plants as it aims to increase its reserve power generation margin from the current 7.1% to 15% by 2025 and to ensure stability in its grid. The island’s economy relies significantly on industry and information technology, so that a steady supply of electricity is thus particularly vital, and the government appears to be trying to steer a middle course between renewable energies and conventional means of power generation. The aim is that by 2025, 20% of Taiwan’s electricity will be produced by renewable technologies, with coal, gas, oil and nuclear to provide ‘baseload’ power. The upgrades to coal-fired power plants, such as the Shenao Power Plant, aim to raise efficiency while reducing emissions of SOx and NOx, meaning that some environmental improvement can be expected, though perhaps the bar is currently low. Taiwan is amongst the world’s most energy-dependent states, with 98% of its fuel being imported.

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Clean Coal Centre report identifies barriers to CCS development

The International Energy Agency’s Clean Coal Centre has published a report on the barriers to wider-scale implementation of carbon capture and storage technology. Noting that only one positive final investment decision to proceed with a CCS project has been made in the last four years, the author, Toby Lockwood, identifies a lack of governmental support for capture plants and transport and storage networks, the chicken-and-egg dilemma of if transport networks or capture plants should come first, and insufficient international cooperation on the technology and the underlying problem of climate change. In effect, the report calls for government intervention for all of these matters – some means of secure and long-lasting financial support (direct and/or indirect) would help increase deployment of capture systems and the introduction of transport and storage networks (which would serve a range of industry), and international collaboration would also principally be fostered through government. There are currently differing levels of support for these types of initiatives around the world, and some positive signs, for instance the Norwegian and Dutch projects to build European transport and storage networks, and the new US tax credits for CCS, as well as numerous international collaborations in research and development and communication, but overall the report calls for more of all of it, and soon. Whether that occurs is another matter – the perception of CCS by electorates is at the moment largely unfavourable.

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CO2 utilisation summit suggests CCU/CCS term change to ‘Carbontech’

That issue of perception was raised at the 10th Carbon Dioxide Utilisation Summit, held in Tampa, Florida, USA in late February and early March. One of the interesting talks at the summit proposed the use of a new term, ‘carbontech’, which would mean “an emerging innovation theme where value is created from the conversion of industrial and atmospheric carbon to fuels, soils, chemicals, plastics, materials, and other industrial products”. The idea is that a new term would help transform the public awareness and perception of carbon capture and utilisation into something more well-known and positive, and comes after a survey that showed only moderate levels of awareness of CCU by US congressional staff, and low levels of their perception of it as something positive. In a related aspect of the summit, there was an appreciation that the new tax credit scheme for CCS and CCU would help spur technological development and deployment.

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Active Energy and Cobant to commercialise coal-biomass blend

British biomass company Active Energy has agreed a joint venture with Polish coal producer Cobant SP ZOO to commercialise a particular coal fines/biomass blend using Active Energy’s proprietary biomass product CoalSwitch. After Cobant tested a number of different biomass products over the last three years, it determined CoalSwitch to be the best performing, with the 85% coal fines/15% CoalSwitch blend being the most advantageous of all. The agreement paves the way for an effective fuel to be made from sawmill waste and forestry residue (the sources for CoalSwitch) and coal fines recovered from coal waste dumps (using Cobant’s coal waste reclamation technology). It is presumed that the fuel could be combusted in coal-fired plants without the need for extensive retrofitting of the plants (which is CoalSwitch’s big advantage over its rivals), delivering lower carbon emissions. Active Energy demonstrated CoalSwitch at the University of Utah a few years ago and attracted considerable interest in doing so.

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Mitsubishi Hitachi begins on-site work to build world’s most advanced coal-fired power plant

Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems and Nakoso IGCC Power GK have begun the on-site construction of a first-of-its-kind coal gasification furnace at Iwaki, Fukushima, Japan. The furnace will gasify coal, the product of which will fuel an integrated coal gasification combined cycle power plant which is due to begin operating in September 2020. Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems built a specialised plant with which to manufacture the components to construct the furnace, a sign of the innovation of the project as a whole and the company’s aim of building more such furnaces. The new 540 MW plant, to be run by Nakoso IGCC Power, is being described as the world’s most advanced coal-fired power plant, with significantly higher power generation efficiency and lower CO2 emissions. Mitsubishi Hitachi is hoping that its technology will be deployed around the world.

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BHEL to supply equipment for 2.4 GW power station in eastern India

The Hindu newspaper has reported on an order recently received by Bharat Heavy Electricals for equipment for a US$1.81 billion (€1.45 billion) coal-fired plant to be built in the state of Jharkhand, eastern India. The new supercritical plant will consist of three 800 MW units and be equipped with flue gas desulphurisation and selective catalytic reduction technology, allowing the closure of older, dirtier plants already in operation in the state. Bharat Heavy Electricals installed the same supercritical technology last year for the first time at a plant in the southern state of Karnataka.

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Statiol to become equinor; DONG Energy renames itself Ørsted

Statoil and DONG Energy are both proposing to change their names as they reposition themselves for a lower-carbon future. State-owned Statoil is to become ‘equinor’, a combination of the root word for equal/equality and the beginning of Norway. The chair of the Statoil board said of the change “The name Equinor reflects ongoing changes and supports the always safe, high value and low carbon strategy we outlined last year.” DONG Energy (Danish Oil and Natural Gas), is to rename itself Ørsted after the Danish scientist Hans Christian Ørsted, the discoverer of electromagnetism. Last year, DONG sold its upstream oil and gas business, and the name change reflects this, with the company stating “We believe it’s time to take real action to create a world that runs entirely on green energy.”

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