US and China Ink Cleaner-Coal Tech Transfer

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GE and coal power plant operator Shenhua Group are among three pairs of companies who have inked deals to create joint ventures to build cleaner coal technology plants in China.


The $150 million joint venture will be shared between the two biggest carbon emitters in the world under a low carbon energy initiative agreed to this month between President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China, as part of a deal to reduce carbon emissions.

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GE will contribute in-situ underground coal gasification or UCG technology. GE pioneered integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plants in California and Florida that helped demonstrate the commercial feasibility of IGCC, and supplied the technology for Duke Energy for the world’s largest IGCC facility now being built in Indiana.

Coal in an un-mined seam is force-fed oxygen in a gasifier to produce the gaseous fuel syngas, which contains hydrogen and carbon monoxide – and the gas is siphoned off to the surface through production wells drilled down from above the site then burned to run an electricity turbine.

The ways that this is cleaner:

  • Carbon dioxide could be captured and separated out (to sequester it for CCS or to sell the carbon dioxide as an industrial feedstock) because it is separated from the syngas before combustion.
  • Efficiency. Traditional coal power plants have never been more than 30% efficient; so they generate more CO2 per gigawatthour of electricity produced.
  • No coal ash, oxides, slurries, destroyed rivers, toxic wastes, water contamination and radioactivity. Mining itself is eliminated – both with the inherent danger and health-risks of traditional mining or the massive environmental catastrophe of mountaintop removal.

A joint research center is to be funded with $150 million over five years. As well as the GE/Shenhua Group; two other pairs of companies are collaborating on clean coal tech. Peabody Energy’s GreenGen, with several major Chinese energy companies will attempt to develop a near-zero emissions coal-fired power plant and AES will work with Songzao Coal and Electric Company to capture methane from a mine to make electricity.

Because there are so few cleaner coal plants in existence; more are needed to scale up the technologies to cost-effectiveness. China holds that promise, not the US, where ancient coal plants struggle along as heavy polluters, grandfathered in to the Clean Air Act.

Finding and then scaling up a clean coal technology has more potential for cost effectiveness in a new, growing economy where over 1 billion people rely on coal for 80% of their electricity.

Image: Flikr user Renown

Source: GreenTech

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