European steelmakers demand tougher EC action on “dumped” Chinese imports
Mid-February saw a protest by at least 5000 European steelmaking workers against “dumping” of Chinese steel in the European market. Protestors turned out across Europe to demand that the European Commission take action to raise tariffs on Chinese steel, with Tata Steel’s chief executive Karl Koehler, who was part of the protests, saying “If the European Commission does not take immediate and robust action, thousands of jobs in the industry, and many more thousands in the wider supply chain, will be threatened.” China is not currently recognised as a ‘market economy’ by the European Commission, meaning that tariffs may be applied, but European steelmakers argue that the present tariffs are too low in comparison to the subsidies Chinese steelmakers enjoy from the Chinese government. In the case of rebar steel, for instance, European steelmakers claim that the Chinese government subsidises production by 66%, while the EC tariffs are at 13% (a “Lesser Duty Rate” in EC parlance, introduced only in January 2016). What is additionally concerning for European steelmakers is that there is the possibility that China may be granted ‘market economy’ status towards the end of this year, following a 2001 World Trade Organisation agreement. Such a change would reduce the EC’s power in imposing tariffs, and sEuropean teelmakers argue that such a status should be blocked while China dumps steel. Chinese steel imports into Europe have grown hugely in recent years, an example being the UK market for rebar steel, where China currently has around a 45% share, up from zero four years ago. Meanwhile, thousands of steelworkers in Europe have lost their jobs (5000 in the UK alone), and there are fears of more losses if the current situation continues. Chinese domestic demand has contracted, making the focus on exports keener, while European steel prices have fallen by around 40% in the past two years, both symptoms of a worldwide steelmaking overcapacity. The European Commission appears to be cautious about further action against imports, stating that it has already 37 different measures in place to combat importation (16 directly focussed on China), although it has announced three new investigations into dumping. The complex and fraught picture is further complicated by security considerations in having healthy domestic steelmaking industries.
European Energy Exchange chief predicts more capacity closures by German power generators
Peter Reitz, the chief executive of the European Energy Exchange, which trades Central European electricity and is centred in Germany, has said that he expects low electricity prices over the next three years to force German utilities to shut generation capacity. Prices are expected to fall between 2017 and 2019, due to global economic sluggishness, rising between 2020 and 2022. As German utilities such as E.ON and RWE have already taken sizable write-downs on power plants because of declining prices, the expectation is that even lower prices will force more such write-downs. As Mr Reitz told Reuters, “If I had a power plant that made 20 euros but cost 30 euros to operate, I would close it sooner rather than later.” The current price for electricity, €20.95/MWh ($US 21.08/MWh) is below the 2002 price when the EEX market began, and is expected to reach €20.05/MWh by 2019.
Croatia’s environment minister says country will back out of building new coal-fired power plant
In what may be a symbolic move, Croatia’s environment minister, Slaven Dobrovic, has said that the country is unlikely to go ahead with plans to build a new coal-fired power plant on the northern Adriatic coast, about which the country had entered partnership talks with Marubeni Corp from Japan. Instead, according to the environment minister, the country should adopt a more renewables-focussed energy strategy in line with the European Union’s goals. Somewhat differently to political parties in the Anglophone world, the former government, which initiated the talks with Marubeni, was centre-left, while the current government is centre-right, pushing renewables and suspending both new thermal plants and drilling for oil in the Adriatic, at least until a new national energy strategy is developed. Perhaps a little too honestly, Mr Dobrovic told reporters that he did not know if the government had any contractual obligations to Marubeni, though he countered it by saying that even if there were they would be incomparable to “the potential damage, economic and environmental, from such a plant.” Such words make the plant, which was to have been 500 MW at a cost of around €800 million ($US 883 million), seem very unlikely indeed.
US to take lead in international network of carbon capture research facilities
The US is to take the lead in the International Test Center Network, which will connect carbon capture technology research facilities across the world. The ITCN has been in development since 2013, spearheaded by Technology Centre Mongstad in Norway and the National Carbon Capture Center in the US, but now also includes facilities in Australia, Canada, Germany and the UK. The National Carbon Capture Center will now lead research for the next two years, while the ITCN as a whole hopes to increase its membership, seeing its role as helping to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Conference late last year.
NETL achieves promising results with copper-based oxygen carrier for chemical looping
Staying with the US, research underway at the National Energy Technology Laboratory has indicated that copper could be used in chemical looping systems for carbon capture in heavy industry. Chemical looping for carbon capture works by using oxygen-carrying materials to deliver oxygen for combustion, a form of oxy-coal combustion which produces a nearly pure CO2 flue gas that can be stored with only minor post-combustion processing. Copper is a particularly good oxygen carrier, but until now its use has been curtailed by its low melting point. Early research at NETL into a mixed metal oxygen carrier, composed of iron oxide and a high concentration of copper oxide, has been promising, however. The test conditions were temperatures of between 800-900oC, under which the new compound performed better than other oxygen carriers. As the work moves into a commercial testing phase, the researchers hope that their work will one day lead to lower-cost CO2 reductions.
India trumps China to win contract for Bangladeshi plant
State-owned Indian firm Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd is to beat Chinese rival Harbin Electric International Company Ltd to win a contract to build a 1,320 MW thermal power plant (presumably coal-fired) in Khulna in southern Bangladesh at a value of $US 1.6 billion (€1.54 billion), Reuters reports. While it is not yet officially confirmed, the indications are strong, and if the contract is indeed awarded to BHEL it will be India’s largest ever foreign power station contract. It also is seen as a strategic coup for India, after years of negotiations with Bangladesh in competition with China. During those years, China has won industrial contracts in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and even Djibouti, expanding its regional influence to the dismay of India. The involvement of Indian’s foreign investment bank Exim, offering low interests rates, is said to have been influential, though a Bangladeshi spokesman said that Harbin lost the bid on technical grounds. The new plant is to have two 660 MW units, and will go some way to providing electricity to the estimated 64 million Bangladeshis who do not current enjoy it.
Boiler house collapse at Didcot A kills one, with three presumed dead and five injured
The collapse of the former boiler house at the Didcot A power station in Oxfordshire, UK, has resulted in the death of one person and the hospitalisation of five others, while at the time of writing three others were missing, presumed dead. Didcot A, owned by nPower, was closed in 2013, and due to be demolished this year, but the collapse was entirely unplanned, though at the time a demolition contractor, Coleman and Company, had been working on the plant. It was the first time the company had demolished a power plant. It was not clear what had caused the collapse, and 50-60 firemen were searching for the missing three men. The boiler house was ten stories high and 300 m long.
Energia to bid for EDF’s Polish heat-and-power plants if opportunity comes up
Poland’s Energia is considering a bid to buy the heat-and-power plants that EdF owns in Poland if they are to become available, according to a report by Reuters, in turn based on a Polish news source. EdF owns five coal-fired heat combined heat and power plants in Poland, accounting for 15% of the heating market. In January it had been reported that EdF was preparing to sell the plants, although it appears that no announcement has been officially made. The plants are reported to be valued at up to 2 billion zlotys ($US 506 million/€459 million euros).