A Brighter Future for Coal Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycles? Part II

by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Instructor

Last week in Part I of this post we examined what a coal Integrated Gasification Combined-cycle (IGCC) unit is, how it works, and how it may change the future of coal as a fuel source. So is IGCC a mainstream reality and, if so, where is it currently being implemented?

Development of IGCC has been slowed by uncertain costs and lack of operating experience with only limited demonstration units around the world.  But recent developments will soon give us a new window into actual costs and operational capabilities of IGCC units.  In the U.S., Duke will soon complete the 618 MW Edwardsport plant in Indiana, and Southern Company’s 582 MW Kemper County plant is under construction in Mississippi.  These units are not initially designed to capture carbon although they are designed to easily add carbon capture after the fact.  And each of these projects has been beset by rising costs through the construction project, which has made each project less than popular with consumers and regulators in their home states.  Until recently this made it appear unlikely that more projects would be built in the U.S. until more was known about the results of these initial projects[1].

But this perception may be changing with the $2.5 billion Texas Clean Energy Project.  The 400 MW project is planned to include 90% carbon capture, with the resulting CO2 used  for injection into oil fields in the Permian Basin.  Such injection helps oil to flow from underground formations thus stimulating oil production.  This project is different from the Duke and Southern projects in that it is being developed by an independent power producer rather than by a utility company protected by inclusion of costs in customer rates.  Thus it must be financed on its own merits rather than off a utility company’s balance sheet.  The project has already has secured $450 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and has acquired necessary permits.

The likelihood of the project moving to construction increased recently with word that China Petrochemical Corp, commonly called Sinopec, is in talks to acquire an equity stake and provide up to $1 billion to help fund the project.  Sinopec’s participation makes it much more likely that the project will be able to complete its financing needs and fosters U.S. and Chinese government goals of cooperation on clean energy research and development.

Again, hearing from DOE Secretary Steven Chu:  “Cooperation with China on clean energy is good for Americans and good for the world. As the world’s largest producers of energy, consumers of energy and greenhouse gas emitters, the energy and climate challenge cannot be solved without the United States and China. What we do — or do not do — in the coming decades matters to the entire world.”[2]

While the role of IGCC in our future generation mix remains to be seen, the current developments in the U.S. along with developments in Europe and Asia are noteworthy and deserve a close watch as they navigate this new terrain.

About Enerdynamics

Enerdynamics was formed in 1995 to meet the growing demand for timely, dynamic and effective business training in the gas and electric industries. Our comprehensive education programs are focused on teaching you and your employees the business of energy. And because we have a firm grasp of what's happening in our industry on both a national and international scale, we can help you make sense of a world that often makes no sense at all.
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