|NEDO approach to liquefaction. Click to enlarge.|
The Nihon Keizai Shimbun reports that Japan’s The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) will provide coal liquefaction technologies to China as part of a broader Japanese effort to promote coal use in Asia outside Japan to alleviate the tightness in global oil supplies.
Earlier this year, the Chinese government announced plans to invest about US$15 billion in coal-to-liquids (CTL) plants (both direct and indirect) over the next 5 to 10 years as part of an effort to reduce dependency on oil imports.
China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said that the combined output of the CTL plants could reach 16 million tons annually—about 320,000 barrels per day. That represents about 5% of China’s total current oil consumption, and 10% of its imports. (Earlier post.)
METI intends to tap proprietary technologies of the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), an independent administrative agency under its control.
As a first step, NEDO will join with Chinese energy companies Datang International Power Generation Co. and Xinwen Mining Group to conduct feasibility tests on the efficiency of their liquefaction processes. NEDO has already been involved in two liquefaction trials in China, one of them with Shenhua, China’s largest coal company.
The two Chinese firms plan to start operating a liquefaction plant by around 2010, with construction costs estimated at ¥100 billion (US$877 million). NEDO will received license fees for its technology.
Indirect coal liquefaction first gasifies coal and then converts the coal-derived syngas into fuels and petrochemicals using Fischer-Tropsch technology. There are several technology and process alternatives for this type of approach to CTL.
Direct liquefaction, by contrast, breaks down the complex coal structure into smaller component molecules which then can be further refined into liquid fuel products by reducing the contents of sulfur and nitrogen.
In the aftermath of the first global oil crisis in 1974, Japan initiated what it called the Sunshine Project to devise liquefaction technology unique to Japan as part of an oil-alternative energy development program. Work within the Sunshine Project focused on three direct liquefaction processes: Solvolysis, Solvent Extraction, and Direct Hydrogenation to liquefy coal.
The NEDOL (NEDO Liquefaction) Process integrates the three liquefaction processes to attain high liquid yield under mild liquefaction reaction; produce coal-liquefied oil rich in light distillate; be highly stable; and apply to a wide range of coal grades.
Direct liquefaction conversion may have a slight edge in terms of process energy efficiency, according to some studies, but overall system efficiencies are basically comparable, and both approaches are far less efficient than crude oil refining.
Furthermore, of the various process and feedstocks possible for the generation of synthetic liquid fuels, coal-to-liquids processes are by far the most greenhouse gas intensive—more than twice so compared to conventional diesel on a well-to-wheels basis, according to a recent lifecycle analysis. (Earlier post.)