2012 Gasification Technologies Council Conference

The changes in identified natural gas reserves here in the U.S. have impacted the economic viability of other sources of energy. Emerson’s Alan Novak, leader of the alternative energy industry team, provides an update on gasification technologies.

Emerson's Alan NovakThe Gasification Technologies Council (GTC) annual conference was held this week in Washington, DC, USA. Emerson is a member of the GTC and I again had the opportunity to attend (the fact that Washington was in the path of hurricane Sandy made travel a bit more interesting).

Shale Gas, combined with an uncertain regulatory environment, continues to put a damper on development of projects of this type in North America. Registration for the event was over 420 (with 5% – 10% no shows due to the weather), down from 600 people last year and well off the 1,000+ who attended just a few years ago.

The conference keynote speaker, Robert Bryce, provided an overview of some of the key themes in his recent book, Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future. It was some very interesting material, which will likely make its way into a future post.

Even though the US market remains slow, development of coal gasification projects in countries such as China is moving ahead at full speed. Bill Zheng, with the China consulting firm AsiaChem, indicated that China alone plans to add an additional 325 coal gasification units (most for Substitute Natural Gas and Liquids production) by 2020, which represents an 80% increase in China’s coal gasification capacity.

The only two large-scale US-based projects in construction at the moment are Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power projects partially backed by the US Department of Energy—Duke Edwardsport and Kemper County. What was surprising are some of the numbers surrounding the plants; both are expected to cost more than $5,000/kw of capacity and the heat rate (thermal efficiency—lower is better) of the Kemper County plant is estimated to be 12,500 Btu/kwh.

To put this in perspective, a new natural gas-fired combined cycle power plant costs about $1,000/kw and has a heat rate of 6,400 Btu/kwh, an advanced pulverized coal-fired plant is about $3,000/kw with a heat rate of 8,800 Btu/Kwh and a new nuclear plant would be $5,000-$6,000/kw (heat rate NA). Comparisons of the various plant types may be found in a US Energy Information Agency study.

It remains to be seen whether more of these plants will be built in the US given their cost and efficiency.

What does the future hold for the US coal gasification industry? Only time will tell but there are clearly some significant challenges ahead.

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