A dominant theme heard at the Gasification Technologies Conference in Washington, D.C. in early October was how all parties need to step up to assure integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology finds a place at the power generation table.
That included a call for utilities and their ratepayers to be willing to accept more risk than they are accustomed to assuming. Regulators should be willing to provide greater assurances for recovering both development and operating costs. That means added risk for customers, who must also be willing to tolerate potential additional costs. Taxpayers should continue to vigorously subsidize IGCC plants and fund R&D for various gasification, carbon capture and sequestration technologies, attendees were told.
And finally, OEMs need to back up their products and technologies with performance guarantees and extended service warrantees similar to those considered routine for conventional combined cycle gas turbine plants.
John Hofmeister, president and CEO of Shell Oil Company voiced a separate theme as he chided lawmakers and regulators for hindering progress by not adopting uniform regulations for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Among Shell’s IGCC projects worldwide is Australia’s equivalent of the United States’ FutureGen project – a 275 MW power production facility in Queensland that is expected to achieve 99.8 percent CO2 capture with sequestration and produce hydrogen.
“There must be a national framework for greenhouse gas management,” Hofmeister told the 900 persons gathered at the event’s keynote session. “Currently, we have a carbon law in California. Shell worked very closely with the governor and with the people in the state to come up with a rational bill we could support. But in the end, it was too ambiguous and we withdrew our support.”
He said the company will continue working with the state on rulemaking for the legislation, but added that if 50 states each have their own greenhouse gas framework, it will be chaotic for companies like Shell that operate in multiple states. When asked if the synfuels market in general has staying power, Hofmeister said it appeared to, in part because there will be a gasification technology for virtually every coal and economic opportunity.
Randy Zwirn, president and CEO of Siemens Power Generation, said OEMs must develop a philosophy for IGCC that he terms RAM – reliability, availability and maintainability. “We need long-term maintenance agreements,” he said. And regulators must be tolerant of the first IGCCs in terms of how high their availability is during the first few years of operation. He also said no single gasification technology will emerge to fit all needs. “Many gasification approaches will be used, depending on what they can do,” said Zwirn, referring to various ranks of fuel, water availability, geographic conditions such as altitude and other factors. “Gasification has some barriers to overcome,” he said, “but it is on its way to getting a seat at the table.”
Texas Railroad Commissioner Mike Williams described how his state has welcomed IGCC plants that can capture carbon and has established the groundwork for using or sequestering it. For one thing, Texas has assumed ownership of sequestered CO2, thus removing legal liability for potential adverse effects through its sovereign immunity. He said states must ease the way with such policies to promote gasification for power generation and its most-touted environmental advantage – ease of carbon capture – along with any subsequent sequestration or use for enhanced oil recovery (EOR).
Responding to a question about the future of coal liquefaction for transportation fuels, Peabody Energy President and CEO Gregory Boyce said the military views it as especially important. He said the “current romance” with biofuels is pushing technology that is not yet proven. E-85, for example, still has performance problems. And Brazil, often cited as a leader in the use of biofuels, represents about 6 percent of the transportation energy requirements of the United States. He also pointed out that by using only the sugar contained in sugar cane for its transportation fuel, Brazil leaves about 90 percent of the potential energy – the cane – on the ground.
Presentations included status updates of more than a dozen IGCC projects currently underway worldwide. They included the proposed 630 MW power/chemical (and potentially synthetic natural gas-producing) Taylorville (Ill.) Energy Center to be jointly owned by ERORA Group and Tenaska; the three major utility IGCC projects to be built by AEP and Duke Energy Indiana; a circulating fluidized bed IGCC to be built by Southern Company and KRB at the Orlando Utility Commission’s Stanton Plant; and BP’s Carson City (Calif.) refinery project that will use petcoke to produce 400 MW of power and capture CO2 to extract an additional five billion barrels of oil currently classified as uneconomic stranded reserves from mature oil deposits in California. The project will also produce hydrogen and other hydroproducts.
Aside from the plants slated to be built by AEP and Duke in Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana, perhaps the most significant IGCC projects in the pipeline involve NRG’s plans to convert existing coal-fired units in Connecticut, Delaware and New York to IGCCs. NRG will file permits to simultaneously convert coal units at three existing plants – Montville, Indian River and Huntley – to use gasified coal, thus retaining needed baseload capacity at existing brownfield sites in critical load centers while dealing with tighter emission restrictions of traditionally regulated pollutants and mercury and with the potential to capture and sequester CO2.
Together, redeveloping the three projects would represent 2,250 MW of new baseload capacity (750 MW at each location) using IGCC technology. Design proposals will include provisions for the capture and sequester of CO2. Shell will provide its entrained flow, dry feed, membrane wall gasification technology for all three plant conversions. NRG says Shell is its preferred provider because of the Shell technology’s “higher availability” relative to other technologies, low fuel use, low CO2 production, fuel flexibility (most coals including sub-bituminous and lignite in addition to petcoke and biomass), fast startup and shutdown times, and low maintenance costs.
Among several technology status reports presented that relate to the power sector was one on the scaling up of a low-cost oxygen supply system by Air Products and Chemicals; PRB coal gasification test results with air blown IGCC by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries; and syngas desulfurization at elevated temperatures, by Eastman Chemical Company. A status report on the 250 MW air blown IGCC demonstration plant in Japan built using Mitsubishi gasification and power block technologies was also presented.
– Steve Blankinship