• Combustion Industry News

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

Siemens to compete with GE in bidding for Alstom; also in advanced talks to buy Rolls Royce’s turbine division

The last edition of Combustion Industry News covered the rumour that GE was in advanced talks to buy Alstom, with the prospect of a deal being made within a week. Perhaps inevitably for such a politically sensitive and major deal, the situation has broadened, with the GE interest confirmed and Siemens also publicly announcing their intention to bid, after the French government encouraged bids from European companies. The French President, François Hollande, met both the head of GE and the head of Siemens over the last two weeks to discuss the two firms’ bids, and the French government has since laid out conditions upon which a bid would be accepted, including keeping a headquarters in France and retaining some French control of the turbine business, which would help protect French jobs. In addition, there has been a shift to see Alstom’s train, turbine, grid and wind power businesses as separate deals. The Alstom board has endorsed GE’s ‘friendly’ $US 13.5 billion (€9.81 billion) bid, but the French government wishes to see if a better deal can be found, and the Alstom board has agreed to consider Siemens’ offer. On their part, Siemens wishes to have access to Alstom’s company data and to interview management over the period of a month as a means of performing due diligence before any deal, which chimes with the French minister of the economy’s wish that there be a period of a month before any purchase of Alstom. Siemens’ offer is understood to be different to GE’s, being an exchange of Alstom’s turbine business for Siemens’ train business (plus cash), creating a French transport powerhouse and a German turbine giant, an appealing prospect to the French government. Analysts, meanwhile, have cast doubt on the economic wisdom and practicality of the potential Siemens-Alstom deal.

Further to the Alstom offer, the Guardian newspaper reports that Siemens is in advanced negotiations to buy Rolls Royce’s turbine business for an amount of up to £1 billion (€1.22 billion/$US 1.69 billion). Another rumour, that Toshiba would bid for Alstom’s grid business if GE was to purchase the turbine business, was quashed in the last few days by a GE spokesman.

US Supreme Court upholds EPA’s power to introduce soot and smog emissions rules

Following last fortnight’s ruling in the federal court of appeals to allow mercury and arsenic emissions rules to be enforced, late April saw the US Supreme Court permit the Environmental Protection Authority to apply soot and smog regulations to coal-fired power plants. At issue was the ability of the EPA to enforce rules regarding SOx and NOx emissions which crossed borders (the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule); its power to do so was being contested by a coalition of coal industry-reliant states. The court’s decision found 6-2 in favour of the EPA, with one of the presiding judges stating that the rule was a “permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation” of the Clean Air Act. Consequently, it is likely that some power stations will be forced to install scrubbers to limit NOx and SOx emissions. The busy time for EPA rules to do with coal-fired power plants is set to continue – in the coming weeks, the EPA is to release its carbon emissions rules.

Chinese government expands environmental law and introduces tougher penalties

Another country that may be installing more scrubbers is China, where the government has amended its environmental law, expanding the number of articles from 47 to 70, and introducing tougher penalties for polluters. Heads of companies will now face prison terms (of 15 days) for breaches of the law, companies will be ‘named and shamed’, and local governments and officials will also be held responsible. In addition, where previously there were limits on financial penalties for polluters, meaning fines were sometimes a cheaper alternative to the expense of pollution control equipment, under the revised law there will be no limits on penalties. Interestingly (from a Western perspective), the law also asks the public to “adopt a low-carbon and frugal lifestyle and perform environmental protection duties”. The revised environmental law reflects public concern and the very serious environmental problems facing the country, including extreme air pollution in cities as well as 60% of groundwater and 20% of farmland being polluted. It is to come into effect from 1 January 2015.

European Investment Bank raises over €2 billion for NER300 programme

Bellona has reported on how the European Investment Bank has raised over €2 billion ($US 2.75 billion) for the NER300 programme, which aims to demonstrate carbon capture and storage and renewable energy deployment. The funds were raised through the sales of around 300 million emissions allowances. The NER300 programme has so far been relatively unsuccessful in supporting CCS projects, with no projects supported in the first round and only one (the White Rose Project in the UK) to be supported in the second round. The European Commission has admitted that inflexibility in the programme has been a shortcoming, and hopes to improve the support for CCS projects in the future. The programme has been more successful in supporting renewable energy projects, however, with 23 projects supported in the first round and 33 project applications for the second round, the results of which will be announced later in the year.

CSIRO to support diesel engine trial for lower brown coal carbon emissions

Australia’s Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has pledged $AUD 1 million ($US 0.94 million/€0.68 million) to trial a ‘direct injection carbon engine’ (DICE) which uses a brown coal slurry as a fuel. The trial aims to demonstrate electricity generation with 50% fewer carbon emissions than standard brown-coal power generation technology, and is a partnership between Exergen, Ignite Energy Resources, AGL, MAN Diesel & Turbo and EnergyAustralia. Trials will first take place in the Australian state of Victoria, where brown coal is abundant, and then on a larger scale in Japan. Australian politicians and researchers see the DICE as a means of extending the life of the brown-coal industry in a low-carbon future, though the engine can also fire biomass.

Israeli researchers developing technology to use waste heat, CO2 and water to make syngas

A report in the Jerusalem Post has highlighted the work of Israeli firm NewCO2Fuels (NCF), which has developed a technology to use waste heat, CO2 and water to create syngas, with the intended market being industrial processes such as steel manufacturing. A prototype has been made which utilises membranes and catalysts, as well as heat, to convert the CO2 and water feedstocks into syngas, the researchers claiming a 40% energy conversion efficiency. They describe the process as a kind of “reverse combustion”. The prototype currently uses solar power as the heat source, but the researchers believe that waste heat would be a more suitable source, being a free product usually available 24 hours per day. The technology was originally developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and has received financial backing from the USA and Australia. NCF believes that with the relatively high efficiency, the technology will be profitable – the company calculates a four-year payback period. However, it appears more development is required, as NCF plan to apply for a US Department of Energy project grant in conjunction with another firm.

British consortium to develop under-water carbon storage verification system

The British Energy Technologies Institute has awarded funding for a three-year project to a partnership between Fugro GEOS and Sonardyne to develop a measurement, monitoring and verification technology for use for marine carbon storage sites. The project aims to demonstrate sea trials of the technology, with a view to its ultimate use in verifying legislative compliance of future carbon storage sites. It is expected that a mix of existing marine leak detection technology and existing autonomous marine vehicle technology will be employed. The project is worth £1 million (€1.23 million/$US 1.69 million) in the first year.

Southern Co’s Kemper CCS IGCC plant delayed further

Mississippi Power, owned by Southern Co, has announced that its 582 MW carbon-capture and storage-equipped integrated gasification combined cycle coal-fired power plant in Kemper County, Mississippi, USA, will not be in service until the first half of 2015, a year later than originally planned. Construction is due to be complete this (northern) summer, with commissioning presumably to take around 12 months. The delay is the latest in a series of setbacks for one of the world’s only commercial-scale CCS-equipped plants, and adds a further $US 235 million (€171 million) to the cost of the plant, bringing the total to $US 5.53 billion (€4.02 billion), more than twice the original estimate of $US 2 billion. The delays have been blamed on bad weather, complex piping and worker turnover.

RWE to close Littlebrook Power Station in Kent, UK

RWE has announced that it is to close the 1,140 MW, oil-fired Littlebrook Power Station in Kent, UK, by March 2015 (or when 20,000 hours of operation are completed). RWE decided to close the 40-year old plant rather than upgrade it to meet the emissions requirements of the European Commission’s Large Combustion Plant Directive. “I’d like to pay tribute to this station and the people that have worked here helping to keep the lights on across London for so many years,” RWE’s chief technical officer for Hard Coal, Gas and Biomass, Roger Miesen, was quoted as saying by Reuters. Three open-cycle gas turbines at Littlebrook, each rated at 35 MW, will continue to operate, and RWE has plans to invest in new power generation capacity across the UK.