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.

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