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Sunday, April 20, 2014

The coal lobby scores an own goal

Arguing that coal can be cleaned up, the coal industry proposed coal gasification with carbon capture and storage as the way to go.

Jon Walters endured a torrid afternoon for Stoke City, scoring two own goals and missing a penalty. To cheer him up, here is the coal industry's own goal.
Jon Walters endured a torrid afternoon for Stoke City, scoring two own goals and missing a penalty.
To cheer him up, here is the coal industry's own goal.

The above video was made in 2008. Coal gasification power plants described in it - Tampa Electric's Polk IGCC Power Plant near Tampa, Florida and Duke Energy's Edwardsport Generating Station in Knox County, Indiana - are operating profitably in the United States.

To the coal industry these two power plants must be "inconvenient facts": they demonstrate that the coal industry can retain a role in supplying fuel to power plants that meet new EPA emission standards.

However now that China is getting on with this approach, the coal industry has suddenly got cold feet.

A reason for this odd behaviour is that the coal industry realises that this technology promises to dramatically reduce the demand for coal. Even worse, it also threatens the slash demand for natural gas and shut down the fracking and coal seam gas industries.

The result of continuing use of this technology will be a global glut of both coal and natural gas - causing substantial price falls, falling revenues and mine closures.
GreatPoint Energy produces clean, low cost natural gas from coal, petroleum coke, and biomass utilizing its bluegas™ catalytic hydromethanation process.

GreatPoint Energy's coal gasification technology appeals to China because it allows them to keep using cheap domestic coal, but in a much cleaner manner.

In 2012, GreatPoint announced a $1.25 billion deal to build the first of 34 coal gasification plants in a remote, coal-rich part of China.

The total project will cost an estimated $20 - 25 billion and will supply one trillion cubic feet of natural gas a year.

This represents a massive leap in the scale of domestic production for China, which last year produced only 107 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

The deal includes an equity investment of $420 million, the largest ever by a Chinese corporation into a venture-capital-funded U.S. company.

So, what to do...

The coal lobby has launched a misinformation campaign attacking the environmental benefits of coal gasification. This attack includes a deceptive study and a series of media releases.

To the coal lobby it is predictable that the environmental movement will be quick to accept at face value what looks like a gift with which to attack the fossil fuel lobby.

However it is worth taking a closer look at why the coal lobby is trying to discredit the technology it has proposed.

A number of the benefits of converting coal to natural gas are worth demanding of the fossil fuel industry. Especially these two:
  • Electricity can be generated far more efficiently from natural gas. Given this fact, construction of ANY coal-fired power station will now be a waste of money. A gas power station fueled by natural gas will ALWAYS be a better option.
  • Fracking and coal seam gas are far less commercially viable. Given the fact that natural gas can be produced from coal, there is NO LONGER ANY NEED for the fracking and coal seam gas industries.
Considering these benefits, and the detriment they cause to both the coal and natural gas industries, it is easy to understand the coal lobby's misinformation campaign against its own proposed technology.

A good example of the misinformation created by the coal lobby is in a recent article on the climate science deniers' misinformation website, The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

The relevance of this article to The Global Warming Policy Foundation is not as obscure as it first appears. As a vehicle to spread misinformation to further the coal lobby's interests, it makes as much sense for The Global Warming Policy Foundation to attack climate science as it does to attack a technology that likewise threatens vested interests of the coal industry.
"Coal Gasification: The Clean Energy Of The Future?"

Date: 14/04/14 Richard Anderson, BBC News
First - introduce the goal
"Dirty it may be, but coal is cheap.

For this simple reason, it remains the world's main source of power, providing a quarter of our primary energy and more than 40% of our electricity. And it will continue to do so for many years to come.

The challenge, then, is how to harness coal's energy more cleanly. While global attempts to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) have stalled, a number of countries are looking at different ways to exploit their abundant coal reserves."

Second - introduce a question of China's motivation
"Not all are motivated by environmental concerns, but are driven instead by economics and a desire for energy independence."

Third - give an incomplete summary of benefits
"The main technology being used is coal gasification - instead of burning the fossil fuel, it is chemically transformed into synthetic natural gas (SNG).

The process is decades old, but recent rises in the price of gas mean it is now more economically viable. The US has dabbled in the technique, but China is going all out in a bid to satisfy its soaring demand for power and reduce its dependency on imported liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The country's National Energy Administration has laid out plans to produce 50 billion cubic metres of gas from coal by 2020, enough to satisfy more than 10% of China's total gas demand.

Coal gasification makes economic sense.

Not only does it make economic sense, but it allows China to exploit stranded coal deposits sitting thousands of kilometres from the country's main industrial centres. Transporting gas is, after all, a lot cheaper than transporting coal.

Coal gasification can also help address local pollution problems that have in recent months brought parts of the country to a virtual standstill."
Finally - introduce grossly inaccurate misinformation to promote opposition to the technology

The coal gasification process China uses is EXACTLY what the coal lobby has long proposed as the pathway to clean coal.

"But there are two big problems. First, coal gasification actually produces more CO2 than a traditional coal plant; so not only will China be using more coal, it will be doing so at a greater cost to the environment.

As Laszlo Varro, head of gas, coal and power markets at the International Energy Agency (IEA), says: "[Coal gasification] is attractive from an economic and energy security perspective.

'It can be a nice solution to local pollution, but its overall carbon intensity is worse [than coal mining], so it is not attractive at all from a climate change point of view'."

In reality China has adopted new efficient technology from GreatPoint Energy to convert coal to natural gas and carbon dioxide.

This mixture is the same as that commonly encountered in raw conventional natural gas produced from gas wells. The gas industry has long-established technology to separate carbon dioxide from natural gas.

As a result, the coal gasification process China uses easily separates a pure stream of carbon dioxide that is ready for carbon capture and storage or use in fertiliser plants... which is EXACTLY what the coal lobby has long proposed as the pathway to clean coal.