UK government sets out plan to recover additional 3-4 billion barrels of oil and gas
An additional 3-4 billion barrels of oil and gas might be extracted from the UK’s holdings in the North Sea over the next 20 years, according to a new report by the UK government. Production has fallen 40% over the last three years, and efficiency by 60%, creating a worry for the kingdom, where 450,000 people are employed in the oil and gas industry. The strategy involves setting government policy to encourage enhanced recovery, creating a new, independent regulator with more experience to oversee the sector, and encouraging industry to innovate. While the strategy is light on technical detail, its association with Shell’s Peterhead gas-fired CCS project on the east coast of Scotland suggests that enhanced oil recovery using captured carbon will feature heavily. The UK government has estimated that the additional oil and gas would be worth up to £200 billion (€244 billion/$US 335 billion) for the economy, and has also suggested that if it became independent, Scotland would not be able to realise such potential itself.
US politician urges export of gas to ease Ukrainian dependence on Russia
The dramatic geopolitical developments in Ukraine have led US politician John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, to urge the US government to make it easier for the US to export gas to the Ukraine. “We should not force our allies to remain dependent on Putin for their energy needs,” Mr Boehner stated, and went on to say that easing restrictions on export would also be beneficial to the US economy. US regulations require that permits must be given to companies on a case-by-case basis to be able to export LNG to countries which do not have a trade agreement with the US, such as Ukraine. While changing the regulatory system would be unlikely to affect the Ukrainian situation, because there is presently relatively little LNG export infrastructure in existence, over the long term the US abundance of shale gas could shape future geopolitical events. Opposing the easing of restrictions on the export of LNG are groups which argue that the competitive advantage brought by having energy prices of between one third and one quarter of foreign competitors is too good to give up.
US House of Representatives passes bill to limit EPA’s power to control power plant emissions
Keeping with the US, the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives passed a bill to limit the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to control power plant emissions in early March, voting 229-183 in favour of it. It is the latest in the series of challenges to the EPA’s powers, which have caused controversy when applied to greenhouse gas emissions. The passage of the bill through the House was largely symbolic, however, as the Senate is Democrat controlled and is unlikely to approve it, while President Barak Obama has said he would veto the bill anyway. Nevertheless, it suggests how regulation might change in the US if future elections deliver both houses to the Republicans. Meanwhile, the Chief Justice presiding over a court case regarding the EPA’s powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions has said that the case applies to only 3% of emissions in the US – if the prosecution were to win the case, the emissions the EPA can influence would drop from 86% to 83%.
China replacing old steelmaking capacity with new to improve air quality; efficacy doubted
The Financial Times has carried a story casting doubt on the Chinese government’s plans to reduce air pollution in the region around Beijing by closing steelmaking capacity, suggesting that new capacity to come online will cancel any benefits. The national government has an agreement with the government of the province of Hebei, a heavily industrial area which surrounds Beijing in the north of the country, that it reduce steelmaking capacity by 15 million tonnes this year and by 60 million tonnes by 2017. At the same time, though, around 30 million tonnes of additional capacity will be added this year across China, and some of the 8 million tonnes of capacity already decommissioned in Hebei was anyway offline, leading to the Financial Times’ doubt. However, with the national government favouring western China as the site for new heavy industry, and with new plants likely to be less polluting, it seems that there is some chance that the plan will help reduce the terrible levels of pollution that Beijing experiences.
Laborelec implements blade tip timing system for improved operational flexibility
In January, Belgium-based Laborelec publicised the successful implementation of a blade tip timing system which provides better operational flexibility for turbines. The trial came about because of the risk of additional damage to turbine blades from higher vibrations when operated under sub-optimal conditions, a scenario which is increasingly common in Europe, where renewable energy contributions to the grid push base-load power plants to lower operational loads. Laborelec implemented the system at the 800 MW, gas-fired DK6 Power Plant in Dunkerque, France, which is operated by GDF Suez. Sensors were installed on the tips of the turbine blades of the low pressure steam section, and data from the sensors was fed to software to calculate the vibration characteristics and risks of damage, which in turn were used by the operators of the plant to modify operation and maintenance plans to reduce long-term damage.
SINTEF calculations suggests refrigeration a more efficient means of capturing CO2
Norway-based research organisation SINTEF has performed calculations for a coal-gasification power plant which suggest that capture of CO2 by refrigeration may be up to 30% more energy efficient than other technologies for such plants. The refrigeration process exploits the fact that CO2, being a larger molecule, is one of the first to condense when the gas mixture is cooled using compressors, heat-exchangers and turbines. It has the benefit of producing a liquid CO2 stream, meaning the product can be shipped in the absence of pipelines. SINTEF researcher Kristin Jordal said: “We started to do these calculations out of sheer curiosity in the course of the European Union project DECARBit. Many people doubted whether refrigeration technology would save energy and costs in this context, and the project therefore scarcely passed through the needle’s eye in Brussels. But once we were given the green light, we were able to show that there are a number of important potential improvements to be made in the process.” SINTEF believes that refrigeration to capture CO2 might also be applicable when hydrogen is separated from natural gas and in cement, steel and iron making.
Albioma to open additional biogas plants in France
Albioma, the French biomass group, has opened two new biogas plants in the region of Poitiers, France, with plans to open another three or four in the country this year. The group has traditionally specialised in power generation from bagasse in foreign countries, but two new regulations have made investment in France attractive – one that GDF must accept purified biogas into its network, and the other requiring farmers to do more to treat manure. The two recently-opened plants are small, one being 0.5 MW and the other 2 MW, using anaerobic digestion to treat manure, agricultural waste and slaughterhouse waste, but Albioma has plans for another 22 plants totalling 40 MW of capacity in the coming years. While this is relatively small scale, it would more than double France’s biogas output capacity, which is currently around 30 MW, in comparison to Germany’s 3000 MW (giving an idea of the scope for expansion of the sector in France). The development of the biogas sector in France will also be a boon for its farmers – it is estimated that German farmers receive around 10-15% of their revenue from anaerobic digestion.
Coal India to build 1.6 GW power plant near mines to bypass need for coal transport
Coal India has announced that it will build a 1.6 GW coal-fired power plant close to the site of one its mines, after becoming frustrated with the lack of new rail infrastructure to allow the transport of coal further distances. It plans to have new plant built by 2015/16, and is seeking a partner to make the project a joint venture. CB Sood, one of the executive directors of Coal India said “The country either needs coal or power. If we are not able to evacuate coal, we should set up pit-head power plants.” Such logic suggests that the 1.6 GW plant will be the first of several pit-head plants.