Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dr. David H. Archer
Father of coal-based IGCC


Dave Archer, IGCC Pioneer - Westinghouse R&D
Adjunct Professor - Carnegie Mellon University

I guess that it's a personal thing with me, but the way I see it was Westinghouse's Dave Archer ("Dr. Dave") who should be considered as the father of the IGCC power plant concept.

And I'm saddened by the passing this past Thursday of an old friend, a nice guy and a technology pioneer.

Coal in gas turbines?
It was fall, 1973, when I joined the Westinghouse Gas Turbine Systems Division, and the Arab Oil Embargo was just taking effect. My first assignment, I soon learned, was to join the marketing effort that was going to save our business.

The days of cheap oil were over, and the buzz was all about "alternative fuels" for gas turbines.
I was told to call Dr. David Archer at our R&D Center and learn all about the one idea that was going to save us. I soon learned that he was working on new ways to use coal in gas turbines!

Coal in gas turbines? Of course. What else? Cheap and plentiful domestic coal.

Combined cycles just taking hold
Ironically, the nascent concept of combined cycle power generation using large oil- or gas-fired gas turbines was just beginning to take hold. Record levels of orders were rolling in from all over the country. But almost all of these orders were now being canceled due to uncertainties in the global fuels market.

At the same time, the Clean Air Act of 1972 had just been passed, and the pressure was on the industry to find a way to cleanly use high sulfur coals. The use of scrubbers on exhaust stacks was seen as technically unsound, and much too expensive.

Were these parallel major developments to mean the end for both large coal-fired steam plants and for combined cycle plants at the same time?

Was nuclear power really the only answer? (Anyone remember "Power too Cheap to Meter"?)

Was my career in gas turbines going to be a short one?

Luckily, there were believers
Luckily for Westinghouse gas turbines (and for Siemens some 25 years later?) there were at least a few in upper management who strongly believed in the future of the combined cycle power plant. Even if traditional fuel sources were now in question, they saw ways for the concept to survive and grow. (Remember, this was even before the word "cogeneration" was invented.)

At the same time, these foresighted people saw how the combined cycle power plant could even provide an alternative way - through the use of gasification - to use high sulfur coal and still meet the tough new emission standards that were about to be promulgated under the Clean Air Act.

Enter Dr. David Archer - and IGCC

At the time Dave Archer, a manager at the Westinghouse R&D Center, was heading a group of mostly chemical engineers working on advanced concepts of integrating both fluidized bed coal combustion and air-blown fluidized bed coal gasification with combined cycle power generation.

When I called him to learn about the alternative fuels path for survival I felt that I was talking with the guru - and the creator of a great new concept that was not only going to save Westinghouse gas turbines but also give my new job a whole new meaning.

Although this all happened well before the coining of the term Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, and the acronym "IGCC" (by EPRI? GE? both?), we were there - almost 40 years ago - at the beginning of a great idea.

Westinghouse was already testing low-BTU syngas fuel in modified W501B combustors, with DOE support, and we really thought that we were onto something very special.

A marketing strategy was developed to convince customers to stick to their plans to install our new PACE combined cycle plants. Our theme (sound familiar, even for today?):

  • Gas or Oil - Now
  • Syngas from Coal - Later

An idea that has come and gone - and come again
Well, a lot of water has flowed over the dam since then - and the idea of IGCC has come and gone and come again as the greatest thing since who-knows-what for improving the technology of coal-based power generation.

Entire careers in IGCC development and commercialization have also come and gone since I was first introduced to the idea by Dave Archer.

My own career with Westinghouse gas turbines lasted some 30 years. Unexpectedly, and thanks to Gas Turbine World, it returned to the promotion of IGCC about 5 years ago, shortly after I retired from Siemens-Westinghouse

Happily, I heard again from Dave Archer when he saw the series of articles that we were publishing in support of gasification and IGCC.
He was still working as adjunct professor at CMU teaching advanced power generation to graduate students.

In fact, it was only a few months ago that I last heard from him.

We had just posted the news item on the EPA putting pressure on the developers of the Kemper County (KY) IGCC project to consider natural gas as the primary fuel for their power plant, and their announcement that their IGCC plant was going "hybrid" - that is, separating the coal-to-gas plant from the gas-fired combined cycle plant.

Dave's comment - some 40 years after he fathered the concept as an answer to the Clean Air Act:

"It seems that EPA really wants to strangle IGCC before it takes a real breath.
Keep the faith?"

Fondly remembering Dr. Dave.

Harry Jaeger
Gasification Editor
Gas Turbine World Magazine

The following is reprinted from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:


On Thursday, June 24, 2010, age 82 of Ross Township formerly of West View.

Beloved husband of the late Justine (Garnic) Archer. Loving father of Catherine Archer, Miriam (Mac) McCann, Amy Archer & Marsi (Lance) Thrash; brother of Miriam Jeske, proud grandfather of Charles, Andy, Justine & Vivian McCann, and Jordan David, Tim & Bailey Thrash; also survived by 6 great-grandchildren; longtime friend & companion of Myrna Rombach.

Family will welcome friends Monday 2-4 & 6-8 p.m. at the SCHELLHAAS FUNERAL HOME, INC., 388 Center Ave., West View 15229. Service will be in Emanuel's Ev. Lutheran Church, 10 N. Fremont Ave., Bellevue 15202 on Tuesday at 11:00 a.m.

Dr. Archer was retired, Westinghouse Electric Corp.; Adjunct Professor, Carnegie Mellon University; Organist and Music Director, Emanuel's Ev. Lutheran Church; Member, National Academy of Engineers; Member, American Guild of Organists.

If desired memorials may be made in Dr. Archer's name to the Intelligent Workplace Program, Carnegie Mellon University, P.O. Box 371525, Pgh., PA 15251-7525 or Emanuel's Ev. Lutheran Church.

1 comment:

kellermfk said...

I would not throw in the towel on gasification just yet.

An emerging hybrid technology marries the combined-cycle plant, gas reactor and helium turbine. Basically, a helium turbo-compressor drives the decoupled air compressor of a combustion turbine. Essentially, all the combustion turbine's power goes to a generator, effectively doubling the plant' output. The output of hybrid-nuclear plant is about 750 mW(e) from a single combustion turbine and single steam turbine.

As far as gasification is concerned, the reactor driven compressor supplies all the air required by the Air Separation Unit. The bottom line: emissions from a hybrid-nuclear coal gasification plant are about the same (a little less) as a comparable natural gas fired combined-cycle plant. No need for sequestration.

A consortium is attempting to secure government funding. However the Obama administration (particularly the DOE) is considerably less than helpful. The idea of economically and cleanly using coal is, no doubt, "troubling" to the Administration.