• Combustion Industry News

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

Total CEO Christophe de Margerie killed in accident at Moscow airport

Christophe de Margerie, the chief executive officer of Total, was killed in an accident at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport on 21 October. His private jet was taking off around midnight in conditions of poor visibility when it collided with a snowplough vehicle, killing the three crew members as well as Mr de Margerie. The driver of the snowplough, said to be drunk, was unharmed. Mr de Margerie, a critic of economic sanctions against Russia, had been attending a meeting of foreign executives held by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. He was described by colleagues as a larger-than-life character and a leader in the oil and gas industry, of which Total is the fourth-largest company globally. Mr de Margerie, who became CEO in 2007, had led Total into significant investment in Africa, which in July he said would be the test of his leadership of the company. Patrick Pouyanne, former head of refining and chemicals, has been named the new CEO. The IFRF would like to extend their condolences to Mr de Margerie’s and the crew members’ families.

Russia, EU and Ukraine agree short-term gas deal

The EU, Russia and Ukraine signed a deal late last week to resume supplies of gas to Ukraine for the coming winter. The deal not only ensures gas for Ukraine for the winter (supplies of which were cut off in June, after Ukraine had failed to pay previous gas bills), but also allays fears of a ‘gas war’ between Russia and the EU, with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak stating that Russia would remain a reliable supplier of gas to Europe. Under the deal, Ukraine will pay Gazprom $US 3.1 billion (€2.47 billion) in two tranches over the next two months to cover the previous bills, and there will be $US 1.5 billion for Ukraine to pay for around 4 billion cubic metres gas up until March 2015 (Russia is insisting on an up-front payment). The price for future gas is discounted by about 21% against the previous gas deal between Russia and Ukraine agreed several years ago.  The deal will be funded in part by Ukraine’s Western creditors.

Japanese inclusion of coal plants in push to increase foreign infrastructure exports irks US

Reuters has carried an interesting article on Japan’s push to finance and export coal-fired power plant technology, and US opposition to the push. Japan, wishing to boost infrastructure-related exports for economic reasons, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visiting 49 countries as part of the push, has defied calls from the US for developed nations to refrain from involvement in foreign coal projects without carbon capture and storage so as to avoid excessive increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Japan’s efforts have been effective – exports rose 55% between March 2013 and March 2014, which will further enlarge the status of Japan Bank for International Cooperation as the world’s biggest public investor in coal projects, having provided $US 11.9 billion (€9.5 billion) between 2007 and 2013 for coal projects overseas (both mines and plants). Japan argues that its coal-fired plants are far cleaner than alternatives otherwise available to developing nations, and that it encourages renewable energy and gas systems, but that some coal-producing nations wish to burn coal for energy security reasons. The push is also, presumably, part of competition between Japan and its regional rival China.

Hebei steel producers to be shut down to reduce smog for APEC

Many steelmaking producers from Hebei province, which at 286 million tonnes per year produces more steel than the entire European Union, have been ordered to shut down production during early November to cut smog ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Beijing. The shutdown will affect all steelmakers within 100 km of Beijing, and any substandard facilities within 200 km. In response, steelmakers in Hebei have increased sintering output prior to the shutdown, so that they may be able to operate in a limited, less-polluting capacity during the early-November shut down period. Their domestic competitors in other regions of China, on the other hand, are hoping to gain some market share from the Hebei producers during Hebei’s shutdown.  Last month, amidst heavy pollution, some runners in the Beijing marathon chose to wear gas masks.

GE, Synova and Makino combine to improve turbine manufacturing process

GE has released a press statement about its new partnership with Switzerland’s Synova and Japan’s Makino to improve its turbine making process. Synova’s contribution is its ‘Laser MicroJet’ laser cutting technology, which allows highly precise cutting with water cooling, as shown in this video. Makino complements this by providing the machining technology, and used together, GE says the time required to produce cooling holes in turbomachinery components will be significantly reduced, performance efficiency will increase, and the useful life of turbines will be extended.

Major fire closes Didcot B station in Oxfordshire, England

A major fire on 19 October has rendered one of the units at the 1.36 GW Didcot B gas-fired combined cycle power station in Oxfordshire, England, indefinitely inoperable. Twenty-five fire engines were called to fight the fire, which started at one cooling tower and spread to three others under strong prevailing winds. The bank of cooling towers at Didcot B, which commenced operation in 1997, are predominantly made of wood, which gave, quite literally, fuel to the fire. RWE nPower, the owner-operators of the plant, have said it is too early to know how long the unit will be out of action, while the National Grid has said there will not be any electrical supply problems while it is out. The BBC article carries a number of striking photos of the blaze and the damage.

Baosteel meeting pledges to improve knowledge sharing

In further Chinese steelmaking news, early October saw the Iron-making Discipline Committee of Society of Metals of Baosteel meet to discuss steelmaking issues and experiences in China. Around 40 participants attended, representing various divisions of the organisation, such as Shaoguan Iron and Steel, NingBo Steel, Bayi Steel, Zhanjiang Iron and Steel, Baosteel Engineering, and Baosteel Central Research Institute. There was a focus on innovation in the areas of environmental performance, production efficiency and the application of research, and a clamour for more technology sharing amongst the various divisions of the organisation. According to the press release, there was agreement on strategy for a broad range of issues.

Alevo to invest $US 1 billion in large battery plant in US

Swiss company Alevo is to invest in a $US 1 billion (€798 million) large battery plant, to be built in the US. The batteries are to be installed into power grids to store electricity generated at off-peak times (typically by intermittent renewable power generation), so as to be able release it when the electricity is in demand, and the business model is simply to buy power cheaply (off-peak) and sell it when more expensive (peak times). Alevo claims to have solved some of the major problems with large battery technology, such as loss of capacity with repeated charging and discharging, and overheating. The large investment reflects Alevo’s belief that it will only be cost-competitive at large scale; if successful, and such storage technology becomes widespread, it would profoundly change the power sector.