Air Pollution Control Equipment Services, Coal

Record COAL-GEN attendance reflects rise of new coal capacity

By Steve Blankinship
Associate Editor, Power Engineering

With an estimated 80,000 MW of new coal-fired capacity in some stage of development in the United States, it came as no surprise that COAL-GEN 2006 drew almost 2,600 power industry professionals to Cincinnati in mid-August. Nor was it surprising that the hot topics centered on the critical baseload power supply situation presently facing the United States and the challenges facing the coal-fired power sector in solving the dilemma.

Although set up to accommodate 600 persons, a standing-room-only crowd of 700 filled the opening keynote session. And the room remained packed at the end of the 90 minute keynote, to hear three power industry leaders provide their insight and answer questions posed by the audience.

James Rogers, president and CEO of Duke Energy, led off COAL-GEN’s keynote session. “With our digital economy, the demand for power will continue to grow,” he said. “And the reality is we will continue to rely on central station power plants fueled by coal as the supply foundation to meet growing demand. ‘Coal is Back’ was a major thrust of last year’s energy bill. Congress and the administration realized that coal is a critical component in America’s energy future. We won a lot of battles on Capitol Hill because, over the years, we’ve worked hard to promote coal and demonstrate our willingness to work on technologies to burn it cleaner. Congress listened, and now it’s up to us to walk the talk.”

Part of that walk will include Duke’s filing several days later for a permit to build what could be the first fully commercial baseload integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant in the United States. The Edwardsport, Indiana plant will be a 630 MW IGCC facility expected to join Duke Indiana’s generating fleet in 2011 with full expectations of being dispatched as high as any other baseload coal plant.

Richard Smith, senior vice president of Bechtel and president of Bechtel Power, said 15 GW of new capacity a year will need to maintain the current 15 percent reserve margin that currently exists nationwide. He said the cost of major power plant components have been increasing at a rate of around 20 percent a year, a rate that is likely to continue. Likewise, labor costs in some places are rising by 20 percent a year. He said that while U.S. construction employment peaked in 2000 at around 20,000 workers, estimates suggest that major hurricane-related reconstruction projects in the Gulf Coast region alone will require 35,000 workers in 2009.

Steven Leer, president and CEO of Arch Coal, the nation’s second largest coal company, said coal reserves account for 95 percent of all known British thermal units (Btus) available in the United States. Oil and natural gas reserves represent 5 percent of known U.S. Btu. “On a dollar-per-million Btu basis, Powder River Basin coal costs around 70 cents, natural gas costs around $11.20 and crude oil around $13.43. That offers coal considerable leeway to make technological advances,” said Leer.

High Interest Megasessions
COAL-GEN concluded with two megasessions that had no difficulty in holding their audiences’ attention.

At the first—the Role of Coal—Hans Daniels of Global Energy Advisors, provided a bit of “deja vu all over again” perspective to today’s energy situation, noting how the United States has faced energy woes before under different circumstances. Noting the differences between the energy crisis of the 1970s and today’s energy situation, he observed that the role of coal has been pivotal in both cases. “History repeats itself and markets heal themselves,” he said. “Coal helped relieve problems during the Arab oil embargo of 1973, when a far larger percentage of U.S. power production was from oil than it is today.” Today, he said, coal is helping offset rising natural gas prices and the damage to the natural gas industry caused by Hurricane Katrina. And although coal prices have risen, they have remained relatively stable compared to gas, because there is so much of it.

And Powder River Basin (PRB) coal, once considered a fuel helping solve price and emission problems in western and Midwestern states, has now penetrated markets throughout the Ohio Valley, eastern Great Lakes region and on the east coast, even including parts of New York. Daniels was also one of several COAL-GEN speakers to point out that demand for high sulfur coal is now likely to increase with the construction of hundreds of new flue gas desulfurization (FGD) systems on new and existing coal units due to mandates of the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). “We will see some shift to high sulfur coal because with these new scrubbers, coal-fired generators will be looking at the high Btu these coals provide rather than worrying so much about their high sulfur content.”

John Farrow, professor of mechanical engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), prefaced his remarks on an old adage “Engineers may not be able to predict the future, but engineers will create it.” He focused on one of the most pressing challenges facing the power industry today—the lack of engineers and skilled technical and crafts workers being produced by the educational system.

MSOE was founded in 1903 by people from the industry to give students an education that would be relevant primarily to the electric industry in the Milwaukee area. “We have more teaching laboratories than classrooms because students must learn applications and not just theory and be able to test its limits in the lab,” said Farrow. “We need to be teaching students more than just knowing the answers to questions in a text book or know what a teacher says. They need to know how to get the right answers themselves and perhaps challenge conventional wisdom.”

He also emphasized the need to teach students to work in teams to solve problems and said we need to challenge girls who can have bright futures in engineering. “Most of the young girls that I know would be open to a career in engineering at a very young age. They have to be encouraged to go ahead.”

Guy Pipitone, vice president of fossil generation for FirstEnergy, said 11 million tons of PRB coal is currently burned in Ohio power plants and that non-competitive rail transport costs could eliminate much of the economic advantage found in using that PRB coal. He called for a robust emissions trading market in the United States and said there must be a standard greenhouse gas policy for all the United States incorporated into a national energy policy.

During the question and answer period, Pipitone had some harsh criticism for the state of the U.S. transmission system. “Unless significant transmission improvements are made, new generation additions will be somewhat useless,” he said. “I wish there were better news. But perhaps federal eminent domain rights are needed to ensure additional transmission capacity is available.”

Pipitone likened the Nation’s current transmission grid to roads in the United States before the interstate highway system was developed. “It was 30 years after the interstate highway system was built when we were finally able to deregulate the trucking industry,” he said. “We need an interstate transmission grid to get power to market. The advantages of having new plants will be limited without a national transmission system.”

Jeff Sizer, president of ALSTOM Power subsidiary APComPower Inc., provided an overview of labor issues that will challenge the power industry in building new coal-fired capacity. He said the “ticking sound” we hear is a workforce shortfall time bomb. Among the issues facing the skilled labor, technical craft and engineering talent markets in general—and the power industry in particular—he noted:

  • Nuclear will be an energy player during the next decade
  • 80 percent of U.S. population makes $551 per week
  • Latin Americans will make up 21 percent of U.S. population by 2020
  • More than 50 new coal-fired plants will be built by 2016
  • By 2010, the construction industry will have a welder shortfall will 200,000
  • Canada has more work in next 10 years than last 50 years combined

As potential solutions, he noted the need to:

  • Enhance the perception of the power industry to young people and others in the labor pool through national and local ad campaigns
  • Communicate the labor shortfalls to the markets and educators
  • Expand recruiting through industry and education forums
  • Enhance and grow apprenticeship programs
  • Communicate total compensation packages
  • Further enhancements to work conditions
  • Engage in helmets to hardhats program through recruitment of military personnel
  • Lobby for increased visa quotas
  • Promotion of technical trades in local communities
  • Increase industry sponsorship of technical degrees
  • Steven Winberg, general manager of research and development for CONSOL Energy, said that by 2010 CAIR will end the notion of compliance coal and have a “profound, positive” effect on eastern U.S. bituminous coal production, reversing a decline that began in 1990. He said coal-to-gas and coal-to-liquids plants will be built in the U.S. “The capital costs will be huge,” he said, “but the stimulant to the coal industry would be huge as well. A 50,000 barrel a day coal-to-liquids plant will require six million tons of coal a year to operate and will produce fuel for $45-55 a barrel of crude equivalent.” He said that developing the coal capacity to feed such a facility will take about five years, and noted that significant amounts of coal not accessible to rail lines are accessible to gas pipelines.

    Pulverized Coal Technologies
    COAL-GEN’s second megasession was devoted exclusively to a review and discussion of advanced pulverized coal (PC) technologies, including super critical (SCPC), ultra supercritical (USCPC) and supercritical circulating fluidized bed (SCCFB) technology.

    Paul Armstrong, business development manager of coal-fired power plants for Hitachi, said that when coal became the fuel of choice in Japan, Hitachi developed advanced supercritical technology and the power industry there has accepted it. The SCPC industry there is now 35 years old. Japan’s supercritical coal plants follow load well and boast an approximate 97 percent availability. The company continues to devote large R&D funding to SCPC steam turbines and boilers and the metallurgy needed to advance them further.

    Peter Kawa, product manager for pulverized coal boilers for ALSTOM, emphasized the current economic and performance advantages PC technology enjoys over gasification. “Pulverized coal is, and will continue to be, the most economical, reliable and cleanest option for coal-fired power generation—today and for years to come,” he said. He outlined ALSTOM’s activities to increase efficiency, lower fuel costs and achieve near-zero emissions. That work includes advances to CFB and supercritical CFB boilers to achieve low emissions and high efficiency advanced cycles using low rank fuels. It also encompasses continued improvements to emissions controls for new and existing coal-fired capacity. He noted that supercritical CFBs are available today.

    ALSTOM is also moving forward with technologies to capture carbon dioxide (CO2), both post-combustion and on the firing side. The latter consists of Oxyfuel O2/CO2 recycle combustion capture and chemical looping. “By the time CO2 capture is necessary, PCs will be equally competitive with gasification projects, both post and pre-combustion,” said Kawa. “There is no doubt that the need for these increased efficiencies and emission controls, including carbon capture, will drive these technologies, both for new generation and post-combustion for retrofits.”

    He said the efficiency increases of ultra-supercritical (USC) compared to sub-critical can yield as much as a 25 percent reduction in CO2. He cited the U.S. Department of Energy’s USC boiler project to identify and resolve critical material problems arising from operation at higher temperatures and pressures. The target is 1400 F and 5500 psig.

    Scott Patulski, vice president of plant operations for We Energies, said SCPC is viewed favorably by the investment community as a proven technology, which is one of many reasons We Energies chose it for its two new 615 MW units at the Oak Creek expansion project scheduled for service in 2009 and 2010.

    Jeff Phillips of EPRI concluded the megasession with an overview of research being conducted in collaboration with Foster Wheeler, Babcock & Wilcox, ALSTOM and Riley Power into advanced SC and USC boilers, the steam turbines that will be used with them, and the sophisticated alloys that will be needed to allow them to function at high temperatures and pressures.