Alternative Fuels from Coal and Petroleum Coke Gasification

As yesterdays’s Wall Street Journal points out in the article, Cramped on Land, Big Oil Bets at Sea, oil companies have to look in increasingly difficult places to find energy.

As energy producers look beyond oil and gas for other energy sources, alternative fuels have been playing a growing role. Right before the holidays, Emerson’s Al Novak, director of the alternative fuels team organized an Alternative Fuels regional summit in Houston, Texas. The Texas Gulf Coast accounts for nearly a quarter of the United States refining capacity. This locale helped shaped some of the summit’s focus on using refining leftovers like petroleum coke or coal in alternative fuel gasification.

The summit brought together people from academia, process manufacturing, process automation, engineering, procurement & construction, capital investment, and government to share ideas and practices on production processes, stages of deployment, market conditions, and legislative landscape.

The local newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, interviewed Al and published the article, Q&A Making the alternative fuels push EMERSON: Fuel from coal draws attention. Al addressed how climate change legislation might impact projects using coal and petroleum coke (a.k.a. pet coke):

If carbon emissions are capped or taxed, they currently don’t have any mechanism for capturing CO2 at a cost effective rate. The positive for things like coal gasification is it provides a real concentrated CO2 stream. In the event capture is required, there is at least a means to capture it in a fairly cost-effective manner. Climate change legislation could actually drive some of these plants forward because they provide a means to do the capture.

On fuels derived from coal or pet coke qualifying as renewable fuels under U.S. federal energy laws, Al noted:

DOE [U.S. Department of Energy] has been pushing advanced coal gasification facilities for a very long time. The loan guarantees that are coming out right now were actually authorized under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Under the American Recovery Act, I believe it was an additional $2 billion that was approved for CO2 capture demonstration projects. Gasification qualifies under those monies.

A final point Al made about the environmental concerns with using coal for transportation-related fuel was:

The biggest, in terms of environmental, is the CO2. Again, it provides a means for capture. It is a cleaner process than, say, burning coal in a power plant, because the nature of gasification allows you to take all the mercury, the sulfur, the other noxious chemicals you get if you burn it outright. It allows you to clean the fuel up much more efficiently.

You might find the full Q&A beneficial if you are involved in the research, funding, design, engineering, or production related to alternative forms of energy.

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