Friday, March 20, 2015

More problems ahead for 

Kemper IGCC foretold by 

faulty link with past

The following letter was sent by this editor to Mississippi Watchdog author Steve Wilson who wrote an article today suggesting how some of the early problems encountered at the Polk County (Tampa Electric) IGCC almost 20 years ago may point to possible difficulties at the Miss. Power Kemper IGCC plant enters integrated operation.  

Although Mr. Wilson may be off-base by connecting the two plants, with significantly different gasification technologies employed and nearly two decades of important lessons learned separating their start-up dates, he raises even more serious issues by what he did not say about the technology being employed at the Kemper plant.
 Dear Mr. Wilson,

I read your interesting article on how early experience at the Polk County IGCC plant in Florida could point to more trouble ahead for the Kemper IGCC plant.

Certainly some of the lessons learned at the Tampa Electric plant nearly 20 years ago could help avoid similar problems at Kemper.  But I think that Kemper very possibly is going to suffer even more from one important fact that you did not mention in your article.    

As you are probably aware, the Florida plant used proven gasification technology, that being the Texaco gasification process (now owned and licensed by the General Electric Co.), which already had considerable experience using similar coal-based feedstock.   The early problems at that plant were due primarily, I believe, to some inadequate design allowances and practices in utilizing that technology (in the syngas cooler, for example).

On the other hand, the Kemper plant is using a vastly different gasification technology that has never been used commercially, nor nearly at the scale being employed at Kemper.  From what I understand, the only operating experience with the KBR “TRIG™” gasifier is at the 1:100 scale demonstration plant operated by Southern Power in conjunction with the US DOE at the Power Systems Development Facility (PSDF) in Wilsonville, Alabama. The PSDF is an engineering-scale demonstration of TRIG™ and associated critical subsystems.   (There apparently has also been an even smaller pilot plant operated in ND, and one S. Korea. Industrial gasification projects in China may just be starting up now.)

So, even if some of the technical and design problems at the Polk County plant will not occur at Kemper due to the vast differences in gasifier design (severe high temperature oxygen-blown process at the former vs. moderate temperature air-blown process at the latter), the problems likely to occur due to the huge scale-up of the process may turn out to be more serious and more difficult to correct.

So, a good question to ask is how did the US DOE put so much taxpayer money at risk in such a project, not to mention why was Southern Company allowed to put Miss. Power rate payers at such high risk?

(Incidentally, use of proven technology does not, necessarily, mean keeping such projects within budget and schedule.  The recently commissioned Duke Energy Edwardsport IGCC plant in Indiana employs the GE (oka TEXACO) gasification process, but that plant, too, suffered from huge cost overruns and project delays.  Could it be that IGCC power plants, in general, are going to be very costly, even if they use proven technology?   That could be, but it could also be that each new plant seems to be full of new and untried features and component designs, so that they suffer from being "first of a kind" designs. They also suffer from the problem of having too many separate large contracts and no one party (except the plant owner?) taking on full responsibility for the overall project.  Currently, there is a huge IGCC plant being built in Saudi Arabia.  It will use refinery residuals as feedstock for gasifiers based on proven technology licensed by Shell.  It will be interesting to see how that works out.)