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.)

Monday, September 01, 2014




From an article appearing in the Seattle Times

It has been more than ten years since President George W. Bush unveiled plans for the world’s first zero-emissions coal plant.

The “FutureGen” plant was supposed to serve as a showcase of America’s ability to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels.  The project would be “one of the boldest steps our nation takes toward a pollution-free future...... and will help turn coal from an environmentally challenging energy resource into an environmentally benign one, ” according to Spencer Abraham, Bush’s Secretary of Energy.

More than a decade later, there has yet to be a groundbreaking for “FutureGen 2.0”, as the project is currently known, after it was resurrected, restructured and redesigned by the Obama administration in 2009.

Originally based on building a new advanced IGCC plant using pre-combustion carbon capture, today’s plan calls for overhauling a 1940s vintage power station in Illinois to oxy-combustion so that its carbon emissions can be captured, compressed and stored some 4,300 feet underground.

But the effort continues to be plagued by political infighting, design changes and escalating costs that helped trigger a legal battle with the state’s largest utility, and threaten the project for a second time.

Tortured birthing process 
FutureGen’s tortured birthing process reflects broader problems in the global effort to develop “clean coal” plants and carbon-capture technology — considered to be key steps in the battle to slow climate change.

Even the US Energy Department now has doubts about whether FutureGen will succeed, considering the project as a “high-risk” in its ability to meet a September 2015 deadline for spending $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars awarded in the early days of the first Obama term in the White House.

Although the International Energy Agency has declared carbon capture to be a key part of the struggle to head off impacts of climate change, so far no country has succeed, either with regulations, or with financial incentives, to spur commercial implementation of the costly and still evolving technology.

Moreover, the debate over the carbon-capture strategy itself still clouds issue.  Many renewable-energy advocates don’t see carbon capture as a viable strategy to fight climate change. They are convinced solar, wind, hydroelectric, and perhaps nuclear power, can be the mainstay of 21st century global energy.

Supporters of carbon capture say that the world will be slow to shift from the use of fossil fuels. And they forecast that carbon capture — even with costs of upwards of 70 percent higher than traditional coal plants — will, in the long run, be a cheaper option than paying the costs associated with extremes of climate changes.

“This is the only game in town,” said Edward Rubin, a lead author of a carbon-capture report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Prototype Plant 
But utilities and regulators balk at carbon-capture costs. Many proposed projects have been canceled. And concerns have been heightened by a carbon-capture plant now under construction in Mississippi (Kemper County IGCC Project) that is running $3 billion over budget.

FutureGen 2.0, is now estimated to cost some $1.65 billion for the conversion of the 168MW Meredosia plant.  It is designed to be the first commercial scale demonstration of a technology, known as oxy-combustion, that can capture and store more than 90 percent plant’s carbon emissions.

About 40 percent of the cost is to be privately financed, with the rest of the money coming from the federal grant.

“FutureGen is a prototype plant," said Ken Humphreys, chief executive officer of FutureGen.  "It’s not surprising that its cost of electricity is higher."

Although the coal companies that control FutureGen funding say carbon-capture technology holds promise for the future, they appear skeptical that it can be put into place anytime soon.

Along with coal-burning utilities they are fighting the proposed EPA rule that would require partial carbon capture (to natural gas equivalence) in any new coal plant, as well as another proposed rule that calls for emission reductions in states with existing fossil fuel plants.

The technology “is simply not commercially available,” declared Peabody Energy, a key member of the FutureGen Alliance, in a statement released last September.

An idea whose time had come – and passed? 
At the turn of the new century, clean coal looked like an idea whose time had come.

In 2000 Republican candidate Bush declared that he would require power plants to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and place an overall cap on U.S. carbon emissions

Three years later, the Bush administration launched FutureGen as a 10-year effort to build a carbon-capture plant.   "A zero-emissions coal-burning power plant."

But Bush and his administration soon cooled on the idea tackling global warming and abandoned the call for capping emissions.  Government reports downplayed concerns about climate change.

Sam Bodman, Abraham’s successor at DOE, scrapped the idea of building the FutureGen plant in favor of a series of smaller projects.  

Then, in December 2007, in a total PR debacle, the FutureGen Alliance announced its "final" selection of Mattoon, IL as the site of the new carbon-capture coal plant.  But hours later, in a surprise move, the DOE pulled the rug from under the Alliance's feet, and disclosed that the project would be restructured “due to escalating costs.” 

Mattoon would not get its plant, and FutureGen was effectively dead - at least as far as the Bush administration was concerned.

From Mattoon to Meredosia 
But in January 2009,  a junior senator from Illinois, who had been a loyal backer of a FutureGen project in his home state, took up residence in the White House. 

In fact, President Obama's campaign platform had actually called for federal assistance to build four commercial-scale carbon-capture plants, and FutureGen was no doubt among the ones he was planning on.

During his first few months in office, President Obama worked with the Illinois congressional delegation to get FutureGen back on track with a $1 billion “stimulus package” earmark from Congress.

With new money came new design ideas.

Instead of a new IGCC + CC plant in Mattoon, the plan called for retrofitting the old Meredosia plant, owned by Ameren Energy Resources, with a new oxygen-rich boiler. This oxy-combustion process concentrates carbon emissions so they can be readily captured from the plant exhaust and prepared for long-term storage.

 The Energy Department was again extremely bullish when it announced FutureGen 2.0. in 2010.
The investment will “... position the country as a leader in an important part of the global clean energy economy,” said Steven Chu, the new-Energy Secretary, as he announced the siting.

Beacon of hope – still glimmers, barely 
The Meredosia plant first began producing power back in 1948, but the plant has operated only sporadically since the late 1990s, reflecting the condition of the region.

The FutureGen project was seen by many in the mostly rundown little town as a “beacon of hope” that could revive the community.

But the revamped project soon suffered a major defections and setbacks. 

In summer 2011, Ameren, owner of the plant site, decided to withdraw its participation when it concluded that the conversion to carbon capture would cost nearly $400 million more than initially forecast.

The dwindling FutureGen Alliance, then down to five members has been scrambling to come up with the $650 million of private money to finance the project

Most of that money will be borrowed, with the debt paid off through a 20-year power sale approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission that was more than five times the price of the state’s current (2013) spot market prices.

In 2013, Exelon, the parent of Commonwealth Edison, the state’s largest utility, declaring that “customers should not be forced to pay enormous above-market charges for electricity,”  joined with state electricity suppliers to challenge the contract terms in a lawsuit.

Although the Illinois appellate court decided in favor of FutureGen last month, one of the plaintiffs plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

While the legal battle drags on, FutureGen could not close a deal for private financing. And without that private money in hand, DOE officials would not be able to release the federal grant funds required for construction.

The start-up date, once scheduled for June, got pushed back yet again to later this year. These delays make it ever more difficult to meet the September 2015 deadline for spending the $1 billion federal grant.

So this American vision of clean coal — as pursued by two presidents — remains elusive.

And FutureGen, for the moment at least, is more a lessons-learned cautionary footnote than a living inspiration for those considering converting a coal plant to carbon capture.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

IGCC In The News

US DOE reaffirms commitment
to Texas Clean Energy Project
despite delays and rising costs

Sources: World Coal (UK)
               Project website

First-of-a-kind plant needs more time to reach financial closing

The Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP) is an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) facility that will incorporate carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in a first-of-its-kind commercial clean coal-fired power plant.
TCEP will be a 400 MW power/poly-gen project that will also produce urea for the U.S. fertiliser market and capture 90% of its carbon dioxide (CO2) – approximately 3 million tons per year – which will be used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in the West Texas Permian Basin.
The project is being developed by Seattle-based Summit Power Group, which requested a one-year extension of agreements with Odessa, the host city, to provide time to realign the project and re-evaluate costs.

Time is also needed to renegotiate it's power purchase agreement with CPS Energy, it's host utility out of San Antonio.   The original PPA was canceled by the utility in January.
So far, the project has been in development for four years, and now company officials are hopeful another year will help bring the project to financial closing and eventual construction.
During the past four years, the cost of the project has gone from an estimated US$ 2.2 billion to the current figure of US$ 3.5 billion due to increases in labor and materials costs.
Laura Miller, Project Manager for TCEP, had previously been the Mayor of Dallas and during her time in office there acted decisively against coal – derailing plans to build 11 coal-fired power plants in Texas. However, she has embraced the (clean coal) technology offered by the TCEP project and joined the project team. 
But, she admitted, a project of this magnitude often includes unforeseen obstacles as she met with on May 31 with officials of the host city of Odessa, TX.

DOE stresses importance of project

Julio Friedmann, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Clean Coal with the Department Of Enery (DOE), who attended the meeting by conference call, stressed the importance of the project and said that the DOE needs the project to happen. 
“The Department of Energy is committed to the Texas Clean Energy Project, part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s portfolio of major clean coal demonstration projects,” Friedmann said in an email.
Miller made sure that the DOE participated in the meeting to help provide an update.  “I wanted Odessa leaders to hear from Washington that this is an extremely important project not only for Odessa but for the whole country,” she said.

Project shines amid new EPA rules

As the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its clean energy plan, which will direct reductions in CO2 of 30% through to 2030, the TCEP looks likely to become a beacon of light for the coal industry. 
The industry worries that the EPA rules will decrease utility company’s need for coal – as they transition to lower carbon fuels – yet if commercial gasification plants like the TCEP can be developed and operated effectively, coal will remain a valuable fuel source for years to come.
Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Solutions at Duke University, said: ““It’s very difficult to perceive a future where we are not using fossil fuels for energy for decades into the future.”
By mandating emission reductions, the EPA hopes to create a regulatory landscape where the technology is adopted as new plants are built, making CCS cost effective over time, explained Profeta.
“It’s also difficult to foresee that we can address our problem of climate change if we do not capture the carbon from those fossil sources,” he added.

US, China, and India

The Environmental Defense Fund’s Jim Marston, who helped shape California’s carbon cap-and-trade programme, said CCS is also critical for emerging energy-hungry economies. “The real opportunity for growth (for clean coal technology) is actually in India and China where they’re continuing to build new coal plants,” he said.
In fact, China is already in this game. The country’s Export Import Bank has agreed to lend the Texas project US$ 2.5 billion dollars, marking its largest foreign investment in the technology.
Supporters of the Texas project say the technology is important right now even if it implies the long term continued use of coal..

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Edwardsport IGCC plant

"working out issues"


Doug Esamann 
President, Duke Energy Indiana 

May 16, 2014

Duke Energy’s Edwardsport coal gasification power plant has been built in a “glass house,” subject to intense scrutiny by regulators and the media. We think that’s OK. The plant is a large investment in new technology and customers deserve to know how it’s doing.
First, Edwardsport is operating and serving Hoosiers. One of the most transparent reports about the plant is Duke Energy’s monthly power generation filing with the state. After a strong performance during last August’s heat wave, we had limited operation at Edwardsport during January and February. That generated a lot of media coverage, but the plant’s performance has improved. March operations were the third highest monthly production from the plant since going into service. Preliminary, yet-to-be-filed estimates show that April will surpass the March production numbers.
These reports focus on operating time on gasified coal. They do not include time that the plant has been available to run on natural gas. One of the plant’s advantages is its flexibility to run on either gasified coal, natural gas, or a combination of those fuels.
There’s still work to be done, though, and we’ll continue to improve the plant’s performance. When we declared Edwardsport commercial last June, we stated that time would be needed to build up to the plant’s long-term level of availability. We always have said that these months would be needed to work out technical issues.
Some news coverage also has given the impression that customers would be seeing a 16 percent rate increase on top of current bills. However, the majority of the rate increase is already part of bills; only about 2-3 percent is left. After periodic state regulatory reviews and approvals beginning in 2009, costs have been phased into customer bills.
Finally, it’s important to remember why we built the plant — to use Indiana coal, an abundant source of fuel in our state and nation, to produce electricity cleanly. Traditional coal-burning technology no longer measures up to federal clean air rules, a challenge for states such as Indiana that depend on coal to fuel the majority of its electricity. The Edwardsport project is the largest in the world to gasify coal, strip out many of the pollutants, and then burn that cleaner gas to produce power.
As more coal plants are retired and companies turn increasingly to natural gas, it’s important to have a diversity of fuel sources to minimize the impact of fuel cost volatility to our customers. Edwardsport has had its challenges, but we are committed to working out any issues that arise for a facility that will serve Hoosiers for decades to come.
Doug Esamann
President, Duke Energy Indiana