Friday, October 16, 2009

Progress reported at 2009 GTC conference in spite of challenging times for coal gasification and IGCC

Construction of Edwardsport IGCC and progress of other key projects and technology improvements overshadow continuing uncertainty over CO2 regulations.

In the face of an extended period of globally cheap natural gas, economic downturn and capital shortages, topped by continuing uncertainty over pending greenhouse gas regulations, this year’s annual Gasification Technologies Council (GTC) conference kicked off in Colorado Springs with a message of a positive future for the industry.

Conference co-hosts Jim Childress, GTC executive director, and EPRI’s venerable Neville Holt each delivered opening remarks with a message of “difficult and challenging times” mixed with optimism over technology developments underway to address both economic and environmental obstacles.

Childress noted that, despite the down economy, registered attendance of almost 750 people demonstrates continued interest and strength in the industry.

The highlights of the conference were indeed positive and forward looking:

  • Construction of the 630MW Edwardsport IGCC plant is more than 25% complete
  • China continues to lead in new gasification installations and development
  • FutureGen, ZeroGen and GreenGen are all progressing
  • Cost-cutting advanced technologies moving ahead
This is the first of several postings planned to report on the 2009 GTC conference.

Visit the GTC website for access to all conference presentations.

Wyoming strikes sharp keynote

Keynote speaker, Hon. David Freudenthal, Governor of Wyoming, showed extraordinary insight into today’s challenging energy and environmental situation.

Wyoming, US’ leading coal producer, is in a “great position” to meet the energy needs, says the governor, “but we need more from the Federal government to put its words and promises into action.

All that we have gotten so far from Washington is symbolic crumbs – not substance.”

“With the likes of the Sierra Club being supported by the natural gas industry to fight coal utilization, large-scale clean-coal projects – and gasification in particular – need to succeed,” he continues.

For this to happen, he says, there needs to be CO2 legislation passed to provide some clarity to investors. “There is too much money sitting on the sidelines waiting for clarity, and there remains a lot of work to be done by Congress since current bills won’t do the trick.”

There is also a need for the same type of financial commitment for clean coal that the government has made to support wind energy, which is enjoying investment tax credits and other forms of financial support.

“Coal needs a level playing field,” concludes Gov. Freudenthal, “it is still our lowest cost option.”

Illinois on the move
Since gasification-based technology gives new promise to the use of high sulfur eastern coals, states such as Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky are proven to be very favorable locations for projects that will help revive their coal industries.

An upbeat presentation by Bart Ford of Tenaska described how strong state support is helping keep the Taylorville Energy Center project in Illinois on a forward tack.

That project, currently estimated to cost around $3.5 billion, is now configured as a “hybrid IGCC”, says Ford, where the gasification island will be operated to produce pipeline quality SNG, and the stand-alone 730MWe power block can be fired with SNG produced on site or from the natural gas pipeline. Sixty percent of the CO2 normally vented by the methanation process will be captured and delivered to a pipeline for remote geologic storage or for enhanced oil recovery

Ford praised supportive state policies that are enabling the Taylorville project to obtain favorable financing terms. For one thing, the project has qualified under the Illinois Clean Coal Portfolio Standard Law, which establishes a framework for developing coal gasification projects with carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage. The law, says Ford, requires emissions from these plants to be as clean as natural gas – and at least 50% CO2 capture.

Importantly, the law mandates 30-year power purchase agreements with qualifying “initial clean coal facilities”, and this has put the Taylorville project on track for financial closing early in 2010, according to Ford.

In a separate announcement, Harry Morehead, Manager of Gasification and IGCC Marketing at Siemens Energy, told the conference that Siemens Fuel Gasification technology has been selected by Tenaska to supply the gasifiers for the project. There was no similar announcement regarding the supply of the power block. Unconfirmed reports are that the owner’s engineer, Burns & McDonnell, is expecting to handle that under their scope.

FutureGen reborn
More optimism was displayed during a conference session dedicated to gasification power projects in development with carbon capture.

FutureGen Industrial Alliance’s David Brown
talked about the “rebirth” of the advanced nominally 250MWe IGCC project to be sited in Mattoon, Illinois.

“It’s the right technology, and the right time”, says Brown about the US DOE-supported project that was all but killed at the close of the Bush administration due to its escalating costs. But with a new administration, and a correction in the way that the cost increase was determined, the project seems to be back on track.

Site selection and the environmental impact statement are completed, according to Brown, and a comprehensive cost estimate for a re-configured design will soon be published.

“The plant will initially operate at 60% carbon capture (i.e. natural gas equivalence) and will go to 90% capture in the third year of operation”, explains Brown. “At that level the advanced gas turbine will be operating on high-hydrogen syngas that will push well beyond demonstrated limits.”
The RFP for a turnkey gasification island was issued in September and selection of a contractor is pending further evaluation and budget approval. The new FutureGen project schedule shows startup late in 2013, and commercial operation a year later.

In next installment: ZeroGen (Australia) and GreenGen (China) make progress.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Bringing down the cost of IGCC

plants with Carbon Capture

By now, industry observers and especially regular readers of Gas Turbine World Magazine and this blog well understand the negative impact on coal-based power plant performance and costs associated with the various technical and regulatory proposals aimed at lowering CO2 emissions and to dispose of the waste CO2.

Several recent studies, notably those supported by EPRI and the DOE/NETL (see Jan-Feb 2009 GTW), have been focused on the severity of the economic impacts of carbon capture and sequestration for all forms of coal-based power generation.

For example, the impact of 90% CO2 capture on typical current-technology slurry-fed IGCC plants is to reduce HHV efficiency by more than 15 percent (from around 38% to below 32%).

And the additional parasitic plant loads reduce net plant output of 15 percent. Combined, the net effect is to increase total plant capital cost ($ per net kW) by over 35 percent and add at least 35% to the 20-year levelized cost of electricity (COE).

IGCC has advantage
NETL estimates that the impact for pulverized coal plants with 90% CCS is even a larger penalty - a whopping 85% increase in COE -- emphasizing a true advantage of IGCC technology in a carbon constrained world.

In a drive to recoup losses in IGCC plant efficiency, and mitigate increases in costs, the DOE has several advanced technologies under development with a well defined technology pathway for both near term and longer term improvements.

Most recent studies published by NETL show that the cumulative impacts of advanced technology programs are expected to improve the efficiency of IGCC+CCS plants by 8 percentage points and reduce capital cost and COE by over 30 percent.

Progress reported
Progress being made on a broad portfolio of DOE/NETL advanced technology development programs promises to significantly improve process efficiency, cut capital costs and substantially lower the cost of energy produced by coal based IGCC plants operating with carbon capture and sequestration.

Largest returns are expected of the following projects which are targeted at specific advances in design and performance:
  • Warm gas cleanup. Eliminates the thermal penalty of cold cleanup and reduces capital cost of the process.
  • Ion transport membrane oxygen. "ITM" oxygen production reduces power penalty and cost of cryogenic air separation.
  • Advanced hydrogen turbine. Advanced gas turbine increases efficiency and power rating, lowers emissions and reduces $/kW total plant cost.
  • Gasifier technology. Improved gasifier materials, instrumentation and controls improves plant reliability and availability.

At the 9th Greenhouse Gas Technologies Conference held in Washington DC late last year, Julianne Klara, a senior analyst with NETL, Pittsburgh, discussed the potential for these technologies to reduce costs in future IGCC plants.

An updated presentation of study results will be made at the 2009 Gasification Technologies Council conference being held in Colorado Springs, next week Oct 4-7.

Natural gas as the "bridge fuel"
The focus of DOE’s Clean Coal R&D program is on restoring the economic viability of coal-based power generation with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) by applying advanced technologies to a gasification-based configuration.

Because of the steep environmental challenges currently frustrating new coal-based projects in the US, she maintains, the situation has created a dilemma for coal. Almost all new generating capacity being added is based on using natural gas fuel.

Although the use of this “bridge fuel” by utilities and developers alike is seen as the only viable alternative for reducing CO2 emissions at this time, recent history tells us that this alternative is fraught with risk of fuel cost volatility relative to coal.

The long-term solution for coal, according to the NETL study, is the technology needed to achieve the cost reductions and performance improvements to make coal-based IGCC plants with CCS more competitive with natural gas fired combined cycle plants.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

NY Times Attack on FutureGen Not "Fit to Print"

Op-Ed piece throws FutureGen under the bus in IGCC / Clean Coal Blooper

On June 28, the New York Times carried an Op-Ed piece by "author/journalist/lecturer" Gregg Easterbrook entitled "The Dirty War On Clean Coal" that raises serious questions about the Times' 100+ year-old motto "All The News That's Fit To Print". (In case you can't open the link to the actual piece, I've repeated it at the bottom of this posting.)

Rather than the Times having Easterbrook's work pre-viewed by their energy staff, it would appear that the op-ed page editor had full freedom to publish, and was either totally blind to the issues and/or was just as technically inept as is the author.

The following letter was sent by this writer to the author. Others have sent letters to the Times editor to suggest that they should be embarrassed by the piece.

In the words of one industry executive: I was also appalled at the uninformed inconsistency of Eastbrook's Op Ed. It was an embarrassment to the New York Times for them to publish such a poorly researched work that was so full of factual errors.

Read on and tell us what you think. If you get turned on by the issue the way that we were, write your own letter the the NY Times editor to help set them straight. At least they may try to do a better job researching such technical matters, rather than just exploiting it as the political issue that it has become.

Dear Mr. Easterbrook,

Where shall I begin?

I'm still so upset about your Op-Ed piece "The Dirty War Against Clean Coal" in the June 28 issue of the New York Times that I'm not sure just how to start to tell you.

I've been closely involved with the subject of IGCC and clean coal for many years, and, of late, I have been writing articles in Gas Turbine World Magazine on the subject. Frankly, my readership compared to yours is quite small. Even our blog is visited only a few times a day. But I know that my audience is technically astute and I'm careful to make sure that I'm technically accurate and fundamentally sound in my editorial commentary.

When I read your piece I couldn't believe that something with so many technical errors and mis-statements is being read by so many - not only in print but also by the wide on-line audience enjoyed by

First of all, how can you pretend to know what you are talking about when you don't even realize that the FutureGen project, which you condemn, is, in fact, exactly what you are trying to promote?

FutureGen as currently configured will be a state-of-the-art IGCC plant, which you say you favor for immediate deployment. It will be fitted with an added chemical process step to remove CO2.

Moreover, the fact of the matter is that GE will almost certainly be offering to FutureGen essentially the same technologies - gasification and power generation -that they have sold commercially to Duke Energy for Edwardsport.

So, FutureGen will not be an R&D "experiment" as you make it out to be. It will be a working IGCC plant, just as you are suggesting should be built right now.

The CO2 capture technology that would be used to remove at least 60% of the CO2 (and thereby give the plant at minimum the same carbon footprint as a modern natural gas fired combined cycle plant) is very old chemistry that is in use in numerous chemical plants where CO2 has to be removed from gas streams.

It is not new and unproven as you intimate. In fact, it is being used in the Dakota Gasification plant in North Dakota where coal is used to manufacture synthetic natural gas (SNG, which is essentially methane). For more information on that operation you should visit

By the way, that plant was built with Synthetic Fuels Corporation support and was taken over by private operators. So your comment about how the SFC didn't accomplish anything is off base. The predecessor to the successful Wabash (IN) IGCC plant was also supported by the SFC.

At the Dakota plant, the CO2 used to be vented directly into the atmosphere. Since 2005 it has been collected and sent by a 200 mile pipeline to Alberta, Canada for use in pressurizing an old oil field to enhance production. This is the sort of thing being planned for the CO2 collected at the FutureGen project, although they are primarily considering some form of geologic injection or injecting into a deep saline aquifer.

So, contrary the picture that you painted, FutureGen will combine two proven technologies: an IGCC plant using an F-class gas turbine and conventional CO2 removal chemistry. It will not be an R&D project in its initial configuration. It has been carefully planned as a plant that will not - repeat will not - use unproven technology and risk being a white elephant. If they build it - it will work. And it should go forward to provide a useful demonstration of the marriage of these two technologies.

Another issue that I had with your piece is that you seem to be inferring that the new Duke Energy Edwardsport IGCC plant will be the first commercial scale coal-based IGCC plant. Are you not aware that the first successful IGCC plants in the US were operating in California and Louisiana more than 20 years ago?

Are you not aware of the operating plants (since the mid-90s) in Wabash, Indiana and Tampa, Florida?

Are you also not aware of two large coal-based IGCC plants operating in Europe? What about 10 or more IGCC plants that operate on refinery residue in the US and Europe?

You should have taken time to learn about those plants so you could be more accurate when write about these things.

And, by the way, your entire premise about IGCC cutting CO2 emissions by one-third compared to conventional coal plants is way off base. For it to be correct, the heat rate or efficiency of an IGCC plant would have to be one-third better than conventional coal. That just isn't the case.

Unless you are comparing new IGCC plants to very old coal-fired plants, the fact of the matter is that the heat rate or efficiency of modern coal plants (where they burn coal as they have for a hundred year, as you put it) is not that much worse than that of IGCC plants. So the amount of coal used to generate the same amount of electricity in an IGCC plant and a new conventional coal plant is not all that different.

Therefore, the amount of CO2 emitted by the two coal-based power generation technologies per kilowatt hour of electricity is not that different. Please see the attached chart which illustrates this fact. It came from a DOE presentation a few years ago, but is still very valid.

On this basis, your idea of promoting IGCC as a way to cut CO2 emissions by one-third is totally in error - and makes your entire position technically unsound. This sort of erroneous argument does not help the case of IGCC.

What is true - and you do touch on this - is that removing CO2 in a pre-combustion mode from syngas (i.e. using coal gasification and IGCC) is much more practical and economical than removing CO2 from the exhaust of a conventional coal-fired power plant.

This is the main argument in favor of IGCC for new plants, that is, when there is regulatory pressure on the removal of CO2 from coal-based power generators, it will be more economical to build IGCC plants with CO2 removal than to build conventional plants with CO2 removal.

As you could see, although I agree with you that gasification has its advantages over conventional coal burning, I have many issues with your piece and it aggravates me that the New York Times would publish it without first consulting with someone who knows something about the technology and the technical issues before letting it go out to such a wide audience.

Yours very truly,

Harry Jaeger
Gasification Editor
Gas Turbine World Magazine

Following is the Op-Ed piece published on June 28 in the N.Y. Times.

The Dirty War Against Clean Coal

WHILE President Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal to reduce greenhouse gases has been the big topic of recent environmental debate, the White House has also been pushing a futuristic federal project to build a power plant that burns coal without any greenhouse gases.

Sounds great, right? Except the idea is a rehash of a proposal that went bust the first time around. More important, the technology already exists to make huge reductions in greenhouse emissions from coal, allowing power companies to begin cutting the carbon footprint of coal today. Instead, advanced-technology coal power sits on the shelf while regulators wait to see what happens with a project that may be just an expensive boondoggle.

The big project, a public-private partnership called FutureGen, was first announced by George W. Bush in 2003. Dreading facing up to the problem of greenhouse gases from electricity generation, the Bush White House suggested that decisions should wait while FutureGen developed a coal-fired power with no emissions. FutureGen’s administrators spent five years on studies, proposals and studies of studies, but never broke ground for a test installation.

Then, in a fit of integrity, the Department of Energy decided the project should be put in Illinois, a
Democratic state — Midwestern coal is high in carbon, making this a logical choice — rather than in Republican Texas, which the White House preferred. The administration promptly canceled financing for FutureGen. But this month, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced he was reviving the project, hinting that the ultimate cost may run to billions of dollars.

FutureGen was better off canceled. Government is good at basic research, poor at commercial-scale applied energy technology. The Synthetic Fuels Corporation, a heavily subsidized attempt begun by the Carter administration to manufacture gasoline substitutes, flopped without ever producing a marketable gallon.

The Energy Department has also financed such overpriced, unrealistic projects as the MOD-5B, a wind turbine that weighed 470 tons and stood 20 stories tall: it looked like a gigantic propeller intended to push the earth to a new star system. It ended up being sold for scrap.

The Obama administration’s FutureGen plan calls for yet another year of study before any actual action; test runs may not begin for a decade. No wonder the project’s nickname is “NeverGen".

This is part of a Washington tradition — beginning pie-in-the-sky projects that create an excuse to avoid forms of conservation and greenhouse-gas reduction that are possible immediately. Companies including General Electric have already perfected technology to reduce emissions substantially, called “integrated gasification combined cycle” power. (Yes, it needs a better name.)

Current coal-fired power plants burn pulverized coal using a combustion process that hasn’t changed in a half a century. The new approach turns coal into a gas similar to natural gas, which runs through a device similar to a jet engine. Such plants can achieve near-zero emissions of toxic material and chemicals that form smog, and they require about a third less coal than regular coal-fired power plants to produce an equal amount of energy, which means about a third lower greenhouse gases.

Beyond that, the promising technology of “sequestering” carbon dioxide — pumping it back into the ground to keep it out of atmosphere — appears for technical reasons to be impractical for conventional pulverized-coal power plants. But gasification plants have technical characteristics that should make “sequestration” of carbon feasible. A gasification power plant with sequestration would have around two-thirds lower greenhouse gases than a conventional coal-fired generating station.

The first commercial gasification power plant, designed by General Electric for Duke Energy, is being built in Indiana. Yet, absurdly, most state public-utility commissions have denied requests to construct the seenvironmentally friendly systems. Last year, Virginia denied a major utility’s request to build a coal-fired power plant that would have sequestered nearly all its carbon output.

One reason Virginia gave for the denial was the higher up-front cost of a gasification plant. Yet, once greenhouse gases are regulated (and President Obama’s cap-and-trade plan would in effect tax carbon), the economics of gasification plants may become attractive, with low-emission plants costing less to run.

Another reason for the denials is that utility commissions are waiting for the outcome of the FutureGen experiment. This is a classic instance of the best being enemy of the good. Rather than starting to cut coal-caused carbon emissions right now, we are waiting to see if a hypothetical system could achieve perfection decades from now. Meanwhile, emissions continue willy-nilly.

FutureGen is politically appealing: contractors get subsidies, politicians get to hand out money in their districts and astonishing breakthroughs are promised at unspecified future dates. Why aren’t progressives fighting for an immediate embrace of gasification power?

Much of the environmental movement clings to a fairyland notion that coal combustion can soon be eliminated, and therefore no coal-fired power plant of any kind, even an advanced plant, should be built.

Reflecting this mindset, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he opposes integrated gasification plants — only new solar, wind and geothermal facilities should be allowed. Environmentalists who correctly point out there can never be absolutely “clean coal” thus end up in the position of opposing coal that’s far cleaner than what we are using.

Yet coal use is a future certainty. Half of our power comes from coal, versus about 2 percent from solar and wind: in the next few decades, green power simply cannot grow quickly enough to eliminate the need for coal.

We have two choices: do nothing and wait for FutureGen while coal-caused carbon emissions continue unabated; or start building improved coal-fired plants that reduce the problem. Which seems moreforward-thinking?

Gregg Easterbrook is the author of “The Progress Paradox” and the forthcoming “Sonic Boom.” Y

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

IGCC Cost Error or Illinoisian Math - You Call it

$500M math error found in FutureGen cost

e all learned in today's headlines that the cost of the FutureGen project did not really double, as claimed by the Bush administration in their Xmas Eve 2007 dumping of the ill-fated US flagship IGCC+CCS project

No, as it turns out, the DOE "erred" by $500 million. The project cost may actually have increased by only 39% above its original $1 billion budget, and should not have been killed after all.

Politics and economics
Apparently, the resurrection of the FutureGen project - in Illinois - was on the new administration's agenda all along.

Thanks to the Government Accountability Office they now have the vehicle to put it back on track - in less than two months after Obama took office!

A GAO report that just brought this to light was prepared for Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN), chairman of the House Science Committee. (Why did it take a year to surface? And, why didn't FutureGen supporters challenge this "mistake" earlier?)

Rep. Gordon, expressed "astonishment" that the top DOE leadership made critical decisions about US energy future and efforts to combat global warming on the basis of "fundamental budget math errors".

He called it "math illiteracy on a grand scale and with global consequences."

To inflate or not to inflate?

What's all the fuss about anyway? What "mistakes" have been uncovered?

According to the GAO report, it all happened back in December, 2007 - just after it was prematurely announced that the selected site for the project would be Mattoon IL, and not in Texas.
After spending some $175 million on the project, the DOE announced that the estimated cost had doubled from the original $950 million estimate, and pulled the plug on the project.

This conclusion, now says the GAO, was reached when DOE
inaccurately compared the original estimated project cost in constant 2005 dollars with a new estimate in fully inflated dollars that reflected what would have been spent over the life of the project.

Based on the same constant 2005 dollars, say GAO auditors, an apple-to-apples comparison would have concluded that the plant would cost $1.3 billion, an increase of about $370 million, or "only" about 39 percent, over DOE’s original estimate.

It did not increase by more than $900 million as previously concluded by DOE, a near doubling of the project cost, say GAO auditors.

Could it be?

And why would the DOE be so bold as to make such a blatant apples-to-oranges comparison in broad daylight? Why wasn't this error caught sooner?
And why did the GAO report just now surface?

Could it be that the FutureGen Alliance's "premature" announcement of its decision to build the project in Illinois had something to do with a change in the DOE's methods used to estimate project costs?

Could it be that such an "error" was pure politics, and it took a full change in government to get the GAO to issue its report and bring this all to light?

According to the Times article, internal DOE communications were found indicating that key members of DOE management were looking for reasons to kill the project.

As a substitute, the DOE is supporting a number of regional CO2 capture and storage demonstrations, such as the WESTCARB oxy-fuel project in California, but no alternative commercial-scale power project has yet surfaced to replace FutureGen.

This may change soon as the economic stimulus bill just rushed through by the Obama administration and passed by Congress may provide money for the original FutureGen project.

As reported by the Washington Post last week, the bill contains language providing for $1 billion for a "clean coal" research project. Everyone seems to know that this project is FutureGen. President Obama supported the project when he was a senator from Illinois, and new Secretary of Energy Steven Chu "would support it with some modifications" according the the Post.

Chu has been q
uoted as saying that FutureGen "deserves a fresh look" among potential clean coal projects.

So, stand by IGCC fans.

A year after Matooners awoke to find coal in their stockings, it looks as if a belated Xmas present may be on its way.

Yes, my Illinoisian friends, there is
clean-coal Santa Claus in the White House after all!

Don't Forget - Visit

Friday, February 13, 2009

Gasification: Redefining Clean Energy

Those of you who are not on the mailing list of the Gasification Technologies Council (GTC) may not have seen their invitation to visit their great website and look at their excellent new video, entitled Gasification: Redefining Clean Energy.

You could either go directly to this link (GTC video) or visit GTC's website

I think that you'll find it worth the time.

Also, don't forget to visit Gas Turbine World's website at

Sunday, January 25, 2009

NETL Video Provides
Basics of Gasification and IGCC

In a departure from our usual objective of using this platform to highlight current issues of interest to the Gasification and IGCC industry, this posting is prepared to help distribute a useful
video message prepared by the US Dept. of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

The video features Gary Stiegel, Technology Manager, Gasification, at the Office of Coal and Power R&D, in Pittsburgh.

This link will connect you to for access to the informative four-minute presentation and will lead you to additional links to further information on gasification, carbon capture, and other related topics provided by NETL.

We trust that this has been useful in your search for information regarding gasification and IGCC technology.

Gasification Editor
Gas Turbine World Magazine

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