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Coal gasification FAQs
Coal gasification news
January 26, 2008
October 15, 2003
Coal gas plant didn't end up as white elephant after all
Remember the billion-dollar coal gassification plant built in North Dakota as part of Project Independence or some similarly-named post-oil-embargo government initiative? There's a really interesting article in Wall Street Journal about the plant, which is alive and well after Basin Electric Power Cooperative of Bismarck, N.D. bought it from Uncle Sam for $85-million in 1988. The company has invested another $500-million in the plant, and it is selling a variety of outputs other than the methane. The plant was designed to produce the energy equivalent of 40,000 barrels/day of oil, using lignite as a feedstock. The article mentions that ligite is "a low-grade coal that is so cheap and so abundant here that some energy experts refer to it as 'flammable dirt'." The target price for commercial feasibility back in the 1970s was $6.00 per thousand cubic feet. When the price of gas dropped to $2 per thousand cubic feet,
The Journal article, however, is mainly about the plant's other products, which the company says are vital to turning a profit:
* CO2 - Since 2000, fully half of "the 180 million square feet of CO2 rising out of the plant's smoke stacks every day" are "collected, compressed and pumped through a 205-mile pipeline to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, where an oil company buys it and pumps it into the ground". The company wouldn't tell the Journal "how much it is paid for the gas -- just that it is double the income" from selling fertilizer.
* anhydrous ammonia - Truckers came and load up with one chemical byproduct from the plant, anhydrous ammonia, a liquid fertilizer.
* ammonium sulfate - This chemical is a byproduct from a stack gas scrubber the plant installed. The company puts it in spiffy plastic bags and sells it as "Dak Sul," a premium lawn fertilizer.
"In the long run, the plant at Beulah may not be a white elephant, but may be more like a life saver," says Kurt E. Yeager, president and chief executive of the Electric Power Research Institute, which does research for the nation's utilities. The power plant of the future, he thinks, will be a "coal refinery" that turns coal into hydrogen fuel and electricity. It will have "zero emissions," he says. A lot of the technology to do that, he adds, has been perfected here.
[Ref: John Fialka, "From Obsolete to Cutting Edge; Potential Power Plant of the Future Was Once Considered a Flop", Wall Street Journal,╩October 15, 2003, p.╩A4]
If all you need from coal is gas, leave the coal where it is
In situ gasification, especially of coal deposits too deep to be mined economically, is a process which could benefit from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission's Operation Plowshare. Nuclear explosions (for freeing gas and other fuels) have time and again proved safe and effective. The in situ technique avoids all the disadvantages of mining and avoids much of above-ground waste as would be produced from refineries on the surface. A project proposed by Lawrence Livermore Laboratory scientists involves drilling many 2-foot diameter holes, detonating explosives to fracture the coal in a 250-yard diameter area, and pumping oxygen and steam down to react with the coal to boil off methane gas, the primary constituent (typically, 85%) of natural gas. Other products of the reaction are carbon dioxide, ammonia, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen. Pipeline quality gas is hoped for after the impurities have been removed. Dr Glenn Worth of LLL estimates the cost at 40 to 60ó per 1,000 cubic feet of gas, or about 60% less than the price in gasification on the surface.
[Ref: Access to Energy, "Using coal without mining it", September 1, 1973]