• Combustion Industry News

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

IPCC releases Mitigation of Climate Change report calling for massive shift to clean power generation

Mid-April saw the release of the third major Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report of the year, this time focussed on mitigation of climate change (mitigation being either a reduction of sources of, or an increase in sinks for greenhouse gases). It outlines that an atmospheric concentration of around 500 ppm or below is more likely than not to limit a global average temperature increase to below 2 oC, and that this would require a reduction in annual CO2-equivalent emissions (compared to 2010) of 25-55% by 2050 and 70-100% by 2100 (depending on uncertainty and temperature target). As fossil fuel burning currently accounts for 57% of global emissions, in any ≤2 oC scenario this requires a huge change in emissions from power generation, as well as probably necessitating changes in land use (more afforestation and reduced deforestation). For power generation, this will mean a massive shift to renewable energies, but it also includes nuclear power generation and gas- and coal-firing with carbon capture and storage. In the short-medium term, the report also sees greater gas firing as a transitionary, lower-carbon step to replace coal-firing while near-zero-emissions power generation facilities are developed and introduced. The energy transition would not be without cost – the report estimates it would reduce global economic growth by around 0.06% if implementation begins as soon as possible (but does not consider the long-term economic benefits of limiting climate change). The report also calls for internationally coordinated research and development of mitigation technologies, and raises the prospect of the use of technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Professor Jim Skea of Imperial College, London, co-chair of the report team, said “It is not a hair shirt change of lifestyle at all that is being envisaged and there is space for poorer countries to develop too.”

Extraction and firing of methane hydrates may be a means of climate change mitigation

The BBC has carried an interesting piece on the potential of methane hydrates as a future fuel. Trapped mostly below seabeds at the edge of continental shelves, there is thought to be as much carbon in ‘fire ice’ (as it is called) as there is in every other organic carbon store on the planet, meaning the potential for power generation is enormous. If extracted, it is released as methane (and water), meaning it can be readily fired in existing gas-fired power plants. However, because methane is a potent greenhouse gas (and burning it creates CO2), there are concerns about its extraction and use contributing to climate change. A more worrying potential danger, however, is if through a warming planet the hydrates break down ‘naturally’ and release methane to the atmosphere – an unpredictable scenario which may lead to an uncontrollable spiralling of planetary warming. This scenario has been a concern for some time – what is somewhat novel is the idea that the most pragmatic option may be to extract the hydrates and fire them in an effort to avoid the spiralling scenario. If more conventional mitigation methods are not adopted in the shorter term, and oceans warm considerably, the idea might be more widely discussed.

US court upholds EPA mercury rules

The US federal appeals court this month upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury rules, which are due to be enforced in April 2015. The rules require coal- and oil-fired plants to cut mercury emissions by 90%, and the court challenge to them was brought by a group of coal-reliant states and other businesses, including Peabody Energy and FirstEnergy Corp. The passage of the rules has been a marathon – they were first drafted in 1990, but have faced numerous legal battles since. The latest appears to be the last one – its ruling was as expected, and Peabody Energy says it does not plan to appeal. The court estimated that reducing mercury emissions could cost US utilities up to $US 9 billion (€6.5 billion) annually.

EC to award White Rose CCS Project €300 million

The European Commission is to award €300 million ($US 415 million) to the coal-fired White Rose CCS Project in Yorkshire, UK, a joint project between Alstom, Drax and BOC, to be situated next to Drax’s existing plant (which is currently being converted to fire wood pellets). The award will be made under the NER300 scheme, the purpose of which is to support innovative green and CCS projects. According to the Financial Times, Europe is looking to catch up to North America in regards to CCS deployment, after having fallen behind.

Descalzi nominated to be next Eni CEO

The Italian government has nominated Claudio Descalzi, the current head of Eni’s exploration and production division, to be the company’s new CEO, with the nomination to be ratified by shareholders on 8 May. Mr Descalzi has been with Eni since 1981, and in his current role has overseen Eni’s largest ever oil discovery. He is to replace Paolo Scaroni, CEO for 9 years, who last month was given a three-year prison sentence by an Italian court for environmental violations at the diesel-fired Porto Tolle power plant while he was employed at Enel (Mr Scaroni is to appeal the decision).

GE reportedly in talks to buy Alstom

Bloomberg has reported that American industrial giant GE is in talks to buy French turbine (and train) maker Alstom for around $US 13 billion (€9.4 billion) – a deal which may be concluded as early as this week. Alstom’s turbine business has been suffering somewhat because of the general sluggishness in the power sector, meaning that the share price has dropped 20% in the last year, making it ripe for a takeover. GE, on the other hand, has been looking for companies to acquire as it seeks to expand its industrial business, meaning the potential takeover is logical, though extremely politically sensitive for the French government. There may be more news in the next edition of the Combustion Industry News.

Drax starts legal proceedings against British government in relation to biomass conversion

Drax, the Yorkshire-based electricity producer, has begun legal proceedings against the British government, challenging the government’s decision not to financially support the conversion of its coal-fired Unit 3 to wood pellets under its new support system. The UK government had shortlisted the conversion for eligibility in December under the new biomass subsidy scheme, which guarantees a minimum price for electricity. However, this month the government decided that the conversion did not meet all the eligibility criteria, and recommended that Drax instead seek financial support under the older/current support scheme, a direct subsidy which is less lucrative than the new scheme. Drax has reason to be confused by the ruling – the conversion of its Unit 1 received the new subsidy. Energy sector analysts say the government decision creates more uncertainty in regards to the new scheme, discouraging investment in biomass, the very thing the new scheme was designed to do. However, Drax plans to continue with the conversion of Unit 3 regardless. The UK government is also to support the biomass conversion of Lynemouth power station in Ashington and Teeside combined heat and power station in Middlesbrough.

Macadamia nut shell-fired power plant up for sale in Hawaii

The Wall Street Journal has carried a short piece on a macadamia nut shell-fired power plant which is currently for sale in Hawaii. The plant is dual use, producing activated carbon and power (with a maximum steam flow capacity of 2 MW), but has not yet been commissioned, requiring an extra $US 5-10 million (€3.6-7.2 million) of additional work. It has had a range of financial backers to date, enthused by the use of a waste product to generate two useful commodities, but its chief financer pulled out of construction recently, necessitating the sale. Power is generated from combustion of oil extracted from the shell during pyrolysis, a step in the process to make activated carbon