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Category Archives: coal gasification

When Carbon emission is high and the globe is warming due to such emissions then the simple and immediate solution to address this issue is to convert Carbon into Hydrocarbon, and the simplest Hydrocarbon is Methane (CH4).By simply introducing Hydrogen atom into Carbon atom the entire fuel property changes. For example the heating value of coal is only 5000-6500 kcal/kg at the maximum while the heating value of Methane (natural gas) increases to 9500 kcal/m3 by the above conversion. It means the same power generated by coal can be generated by using almost half the quantity of natural gas. Converting Carbon into substituted natural gas (SNG) is one way of addressing climate change in a short span of time. By switching over the SNG from coal will cut the CO2 emission almost by 50%.

Global warming due to GHG emission has become a serious environmental issue in recent times and more and more investments are made on renewable energy projects such as solar and wind etc. In spite of the major thrust on renewable energy projects the main source of power is still generated around the world  using fossil fuel especially Coal  due to its abundance and low-cost. Moreover the investment already made on fossil fuel infrastructures are too big to be ignored and investment required to substitute coal-fired power plants by renewable energy are too large and gestation periods are too long to maintain the current electricity demand and to meet the future demands. The cost of renewable energy also is high and there is great resistance by consumers to switch over to renewable energy. Many Governments are reluctant to subsidize renewable energy due to their financial constraints. That is why countries like China which is growing at the rate of more than 8% pa are trying to decrease the ‘Carbon intensity’ rather than closing down the coal–fired power plants by setting up SNG (synthetic natural gas) plants by gasification of  coal . This will cut their Carbon emissions almost by 50% surpassing all other countries around the world in short span of time, thus meeting their emission targets agreed in “Kyoto protocol”. They can also meet the increasing electricity demand by using “syngas” generated by coal gasification plants, while reducing the Carbon pollution. They will also be able to produce Diesel and Gasoline from coal similar to the “SESOL” plant in South Africa which is already operating successfully for the past 50 years.

“Leveraging Natural Gas to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions” – a summary report by Center for Energy and Climate Solutions (C2ES) have highlighted the following in their report.

“Recent technological advances have unleashed a boom in U.S. natural gas production, with expanded supplies and substantially lower prices projected well into the future. Because combusting natural gas yields fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal or petroleum, the expanded use of natural gas offers significant opportunities to help address global climate change.

The substitution of gas for coal in the power sector, for example, has contributed to a recent decline in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas, however, is not carbon-free. Apart from the emissions released by its combustion, natural gas is composed primarily of methane (CH4), a potent greenhouse gas, and the direct release of methane during production, transmission, and distribution may offset some of the potential climate benefits of its expanded use across the economy.

This report explores the opportunities and challenges in leveraging the natural gas boom to achieve further reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Examining the implications of expanded use in key sectors of the economy, it recommends policies and actions needed to maximize climate benefits of natural gas use in power generation, buildings, manufacturing, and transportation. More broadly, the report draws the following conclusions:

•The expanded use of natural gas—as a replacement for coal and petroleum—can help our  efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the near to mid-term, even as the economy grows. In 2013, energy sector emissions are at the lowest levels since 1994, in part because of the substitution of natural gas for other fossil fuels, particularly coal. Total U.S. emissions are not expected to reach 2005 levels again until sometime after 2040.

• Substitution of natural gas for other fossil fuels cannot be the sole basis for long-term U.S. efforts to address climate change because natural gas is a fossil fuel and its combustion emits greenhouse gases. To avoid dangerous climate change, greater reductions will be necessary than natural gas alone can provide. Ensuring that low-carbon investment dramatically expands must be a priority. Zero-emission sources of energy, such as wind, nuclear and solar, are critical, as are the use of carbon capture-and-storage technologies at fossil fuel plants and continued improvements in energy efficiency.

• Along with substituting natural gas for other fossil fuels, direct releases of methane into the atmosphere must be minimized. It is important to better understand and more accurately measure the greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas production and use in order to achieve emissions reductions along the entire natural gas value chain.”

Countries like India should emulate the Chinese model and become self-sufficient in meeting their growing energy demand without relying completely on imported Petroleum products. Import of petroleum products is the single largest foreign exchange drain for India, restricting their economic growth to less than 5%. Countries that rely completely on coal-fired power plants can set up coal hydro-gasification and gasification plants to cut their Carbon emissions in the immediate future while setting up renewable energy projects as a long-term solution.

Transiting Carbon economy into Hydrogen economy is a bumpy road and it will not be  easy to achieve in a short span of time. The logical path for such transition will be to switch coal based power generation into gas based power generation for the following reasons.

The largest Carbon emissions are from power generation and transportation. Transportation industry is already going through a transition from fossil fuel to Hydrogen. More future cars will be based either on Fuel cell or Electric and in both cases the fuel is the critical issue. Battery technology also will be an issue for Electric cars. It is more practical to generate Hydrogen from natural gas and to set up Hydrogen fuel stations than generating Hydrogen from solar-powered water electrolysis. With improvement on Fuel cell technology it is more likely that PEM Fuel cell may be able to operate on Hydrogen derived from natural gas that is completely free from any Sulphur compounds. Even for Electric cars, natural gas will play an important role as a fuel for power generation and distribution in the near future as we transit from Carbon economy to  full-fledged Hydrogen economy.

Countries like India with highest economic growth will have to be pragmatic by setting up more SNG plants with indigenous coal than depending on imported LNG. India has only two LNG terminals now in operation but do not have gas transmission infrastructure. With increasing demand for natural gas from all over the world and lack of LNG receiving terminals, India will have to face a serious fuel and power shortage in the future. By installing more coal gasification and SNG plants with down-stream products like Diesel and petrol, India can overcome the fuel and power shortage. In fact India set up the first coal gasification and Ammonia and Urea plant in Neyveli (Neyveli Lignite Corporation) way back in Fifties after her independence and it is time to visit the past.

Renewable energy is certainly the long-term solution for energy demand but we have to consider the amount of GHG emission associated with production PV solar panels, wind turbines and batteries. There is no easy fix to cut GHG emission in short span of time but switching Carbon to hydrocarbon will certainly reduce the emissions scientists are advocating and water (steam) is the key to introduce such Hydrogen atom into the Carbon atom. That is why we always believe “Water and Energy are two sides of the same coin” and renewable Hydrogen will be the key to our future energy.

For more information on the above topic please refer to the following link:

Source: Harvard University

Link: Coal to Natural gas Fuel switching and Carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reduction.

Date: Apr 2011.

Author: Jackson Salovaara.

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Photovoltaic  solar industry has started expanding in recent years in US and Europe and the rest of the world also started following. Still solar energy is considered expensive in many parts of the world for various reasons. In most of these countries, energy is predominantly managed by Governments with age-old technologies and transmission systems. Coal is still the major fuel used for power generation and distribution and their infrastructures are old and inefficient. Transmission losses, power pilfering, subsidized power tariffs and even free power for farmers, are some of the issues that compounds the problems. Energy and water are considered more of social issues rather than business issues. For example in India, frequent power failures are common  and sometimes people do not have power even up to 8 to 12 hours  a day, especially  in country sides. Standby diesel generators are integral part of an industry or business. The heavily subsidized power supply by Government from coal-fired power plants is  underrated. The average power tariff in India is still less than $0.07/kwhr.But the reality is they will be using diesel generated power for equal several hours in a day  and the cost of diesel power varies from  $0.24 up to $0.36/kwhrs, almost in par with solar power. The average power cost will amount to $0.18 to $0.20 /kwhrs.

Any slight increase  in oil price will have a dramatic effect in energy cost in India and their balance of payment situation.Governments are in a precarious situation and they have to make a balancing act between subsidizing the energy cost and winning the elections. They often subsidize the power resulting in heavy revenue losses for Government run electricity boards. Most of the electricity boards in India are in red. People are used to low power tariffs for several decades and any increase in the tariff will make the Government unpopular. Greenhouse effect and global warming are secondary issues. With an average economic growth rate at 7% year after year, their energy requirements have gone up substantially. They may need several hundred thousands of MW power in the next 5 to 10 years. They have opened up energy sector to private only in recent years.

Renewable energy industry is relatively new and there are very few large commercial-scale solar and wind power plants in India. Majority of residents and businesses cannot afford high cost of PV solar installation. Even if they install, there is no ‘power- in tariff’ mechanism by Government where consumers can export surplus energy at a higher tariff to the grid. With current power failures lasting 8-12 hours/day, such mechanisms will have no value. The situation is the same in many Asian countries.

The solar panel costs are high due to lack of local production of silicon wafers, batteries and inverters and most of them are still imported. State electricity boards do not have funds to buy power at higher tariffs. Import duties and taxes on imported components are still high making renewable industries uncompetitive against cheap coal-fired,  subsidized power cost of $0.07/kwhrs .India requires massive investment on renewable energy industries. But most of the power projects which are under planning stage or under implementation are based on either coal or oil or LNG.There is no sign that India will soon become a major player in renewable energy.

In PV solar projects, the cost of storage batteries are higher than the solar panel during the life cycle of 25 years. If the life of a battery is 8 years then you will need 3 batteries during the life cycle. For example, if you use 100 watts solar panel with a life span of 20 years, the initial cost of solar panel may be $300 which will generate an average power of 140 watt.hrs /day. If you plan to store 5 days energy using a battery, you will enquire 5x 140= 700 watt.hrs battery, costing about $175.If you have to replace batteries 3 times during the life span of 20 years then the cost of battery is 3×175= $525.You have to add operation and maintenance cost, in addition to it. Therefore, your investment on batteries is 1.75 times more than solar panels. This cost will substantially add up to your energy cost.

In most of the Asian countries where they cannot export surplus power to the grid, they have to rely only on batteries. This high cost of stored energy is not remunerative because they cannot export this surplus to the grid at a higher tariff. This situation is not likely to change at least in the short-term.

There is a general opinion that Hydrogen is now very expensive compared to Gasoline and Diesel. It depends on how you generate Hydrogen. We have used Gasoline and Diesel for several decades and real cost of crude oil is much lower than what we are paying for Gasoline and diesel at the service stations. Crude oil is formed naturally and all the cost involved is for pumping, transportation and refining. The cost of energy spent on transportation and refining is also comparatively low. It is the geopolitical situation in the world, supply demand gap, Government taxes and levies, inventory levels, financial market and distributors play a key role in fixing the price of these fuels.

Hydrogen can be generated from tap water without involving fossil fuels at all. But Governments are spending on research and development of Hydrogen generation using fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal. It is understandable that these sources are suitable for bulk production of Hydrogen on an industrial scale. We will also be able to use existing fossil fuel infrastructure to the most extent. But the flip side of this approach is Hydrogen generated by this route is still not pure enough to meet Fuel cell requirements. This Hydrogen may be suitable for Hydrogen combustion engines. Why they are not suitable? For example, Hydrogen is generated from natural gas by steam reforming,Syngas is generated as an intermediary product which is a mixture of Hydrogen and Carbon monoxide; but also other impurities present in natural gas such Sulfur,Phosphorus and Mercaptans etc.Natural gas has to be purified to remove all these impurities before it can be subject to steam reformation. In spite of an elaborate purification methods adopted, Fuel cell suppliers are reluctant to guarantee the life of their Fuelcell.The Fuel cell uses expensive Platinum as a catalyst which can be readily poisoned by the presence of impurities in Hydrogen, produced from natural gas. This is one of the main reasons why Hydrogen becomes expensive by this route. Industries can pay high cost for this Hydrogen, but ordinary citizens cannot afford to pay.

Hydrogen can be generated directly from tap water by simply electrolyzing it using a Direct current such as solar and wind. If we use grid power, it requires about 68kwhrs of electricity, costing about $3.40 per Kg of Hydrogen. Assuming Hydrogen will cost about $5 per kg after compression and storage, it is still worth the cost. This Hydrogen will give a mileage of 73.4 miles/kg using Fuel cell car. This is equal to 3.67 Gallons of gasoline costing about $13.76, at the rate of $3.75 per gallon. It is very clear that hydrogen is cheaper than gasoline or diesel. At the current price,Gasoline  costs 275% more than Hydrogen gas.

By converting existing coal and oil based power plants into IGCC, Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle plants, Government can cut the current emission levels of greenhouse gases, and at the same time supply electricity at the prevailing rates. We do not have to import oil or gas. Government should fund conversion of coal and oil-fired power plants into IGCC plants and create Hydrogen infrastructure, by producing more Hydrogen Fuel cell cars and Hydrogen service stations. By adopting this policy, US Government can bring down the prices of crude oil in the international market which will help cut the prices of all other petrochemical products like fertilizers, plastics, drugs and cosmetics. The crux of the issue is to divert petroleum products from fuel use to other uses. At the same time Governments can reduce their greenhouse emissions to the level demanded by scientists. By reducing the cost of solar panels to less than $.100 per watt, Renewable Hydrogen will become a commercial reality and that will be the end of fossil fuels.

Dirty coal is still a popular choice for power generation around the world, irrespective of the status of the country, whether industrially advanced or backward. The abundant availability and cheap cost, makes coal more attractive from investor’s point of view; they care less for the environment, while Governments turn a blind eye to all the emissions and pollutions. It is a question of survival for millions of people who work in coal mines and industries. It is one of the toughest challenges many Government are facing. Take for example India; about 65% of power generation still comes from coal. The import of coal increases year after year and there is no immediate solution in sight. Indian coal is a low-grade coal with very high ash content. Each coal-fired power plant generates a huge amount of fly ash and they stockpile them; supposed to be used in the production of Portland cement. It is a big business.

China and Indonesia too uses coal as a major fuel for power generation. But they have come out with an innovative and pragmatic method of using coal. They use coal-water-slurry (CWS), a finely pulverized high  grade coal (calorific value 5100-6100Kcal/kg) in water. They use some chemical additives that make the slurry a homogeneous fluid, similar to a Hydrocarbon such as Heavy fuel oil (HFO).The advantage with CWS is it can be easily pumped and injected into a furnace or boiler using ceramic nozzles, obviously to avoid erosion due the abrasive nature of coal, just like firing diesel or heavy oil. According to the literature, 1.8 -2.2 tons of CWS is equal to 1 ton of Heavy fuel oil (HFO) and it costs about the same. It cost only US$ 62 million to retrofit an existing coal-fired power plant with CWS system and the yearly savings are estimated at US$ 41 mil per year, an attractive rerun on investment.

The beautiful aspect of this method is it generates Hydrogen rich Syngas according to the following chemical reaction.

2C + O2+2 H2O ——– 2H2+2 CO2 when the mixture is subject to Gasification instead of mere Combustion.

The combustion efficiency is about 96-99% and the boiler efficiency of more than 90%. It generates less Sulfur dioxide and Nitrogen oxide emissions and good for the environment compared to conventional coal-fired power plants. It is a good technology that needs the attention of Governments especially India, China and Indonesisa.Even coal rich countries like US, Australia should focus on this technology apart from their persuasion such as carbon sequestration.

In fact this will open new avenues for India and China to switch over to Hydrogen economy without making large investments. The coal water slurry fluid has a property similar to a Hydrocarbon as shown below.

Density 65-70% ,Viscosity -1000Cp, Size d< 50 microns, Ash content <7, Sulfur<0.5%. It is easy to handle a liquid than solid coal. pulverized coal is pneumatically conveyed and fired in rotary cement kilns for so many years. There is nothing new about it. Similarly coal water slurry can be a game changer for  the power industry,  if it is combined with Gasification and combined cycle;  it will lead  into Hydrogen based power generation industry using Fuel cell such as Molten Carbonate Fuel cell (MCFC). I believe there is a clear opportunity for the Governments and private industries  to seriously look into CWS technology which I believe, is a ‘precursor’ for Hydrogen economy of the future.

Coal is an important fuel that helped industrial revolution. It is still a main fuel for power generation in many parts of the world. It is also an important raw material for number of chemicals and they directly compete with Hydrocarbons such as Naptha.It is abundantly available and it is cheap. We are still able to generate electricity at 5 cents per kwhr using coal. But, now we are entering into a new phase of energy generation and distribution, due to changing environmental and climatic issues of the twenty-first century. We need completely a new fuel to address these issues; a fuel that has a higher heat content, which can generate more power per unit value of fuel, and yet, generates no pollution. It is a challenging job and the world is gearing up to meet these challenges. They affect the world because any issues about energy impacts each and every one of us. Many industrialized countries around the world are reluctant to sign an agreement that compels them to cut their greenhouse emission to an acceptable level set by UN panel of scientists.

Governments such as US, China and India are reluctant to sign such an agreement because their economy and growth depends upon cheap energy, made from coal. Such an agreement will be detrimental to their progress, and the leaders of these nations are not ready to sign such an agreement. They also understand that world cannot afford to continue to use coal as they have used in the past. It is simply unsustainable. It is a precarious situation and they need to carefully plan their path forward. On one hand, they need to keep up their industrial and economic growth, and although they need to cut their emissions and save the world, from catastrophic consequences of global warming.

A simple analysis of the fuel will show that Hydrogen is a potential energy source for the future. It has energy content at least five times more than a coal for a unit value. Coal has an average heat content of 5000 kcal /kg while Hydrogen has an average heat content of 39,000 kcal/kg. Coal has a number of impurities such as ash, sulfur, phosphorous, other than carbon. Burning coal will emit greenhouse gases with toxic fumes that have to be removed. Therefore, these industrialized countries are now looking ways to generate Hydrogen from coal; that too at a cost which will be comparable to other current fuels such as natural gas. It is not an easy task because natural gas is formed by Mother Nature over several hundred thousand years. It is readily available and there is no manufacturing cost except processing cost. We are used to free energy from Mother Nature. This is the crux of the issue.

Hydrogen is the most abundantly available element on earth; yet it is not available in a free form. It is available as a compound, such as, joined with oxygen forming   water H2O molecule; or joined with Carbon forming Methane CH4 molecule.This Hydrogen should be separated in a free form, and this separation requires energy. How can coal, which is just a Carbon, generate Hydrogen?  It requires an addition of water in the form of steam.  When coal is gasified with air and steam, a mixture of Hydrogen and Carbon dioxide is generated, known as Syngas (synthesis gas).

2C + H2O+O2  ———  2H2 +2 CO2

The syngas is separated into Hydrogen and carbon dioxide using various methods using their difference in densities. The Hydrogen can be stored under pressure for further use. Research work is now under way to capture carbon dioxide for sequestering. Carbon sequestration is a method of capturing carbon dioxide and storing it in a place where it cannot enter the atmosphere. But the technical feasibility and economic viability of such a system is yet to be established.

Carbon sequestration is a new concept and the cost of sequestration can potentially increase the cost of energy derived from Hydrogen despite the fact, Hydrogen has energy content five times more the carbon. However, there is no quick fix for our energy problems, and we have to reconcile to the energy cost will increase in the future but eventually cut the greenhouse emissions. These developed countries should at least show to the rest of the world, how they plan to cut their emissions and their action plans; such disclosure should be subject to inspection by UN panel. In the absence of any concrete mechanism, it will be impossible to stop the global warming in the stipulated time frame considering the fact that a number of coal/oil/gas-fired power plants are already under implementation.

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