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Peabody Energy Acquires Equity Interest in Substitute Natural Gas Producer GreatPoint Energy

25 January 2008

Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, is taking a minority position in GreatPoint Energy, Inc., a company that is commercializing a proprietary technology to convert coal, petroleum coke and biomass into pipeline-quality natural gas (substitute natural gas, SNG) while enabling carbon capture and storage.

Gratpoint
Overview of the bluegas catalytic coal methanation process. Click to enlarge.

GreatPoint Energy’s “bluegas” technology uses a single-stage catalytic gasification process to create natural gas that is 99.5% pure methane and can be transported throughout North America utilizing the existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure.

By comparison, syngas resulting from conventional gasification cannot be converted to pipeline quality natural gas without further processing.

By adding a catalyst to the coal gasification system, GreatPoint Energy is able to reduce the operating temperature in the gasifier, while directly promoting the reactions that yield methane, (CH4). Under these mild catalytic conditions, less expensive reactor components are required, pipeline grade methane is produced, and very low cost carbon sources (such as lignites, sub-bituminous coals, tar sands, petroleum coke and petroleum resid) can be used as feedstocks.

Compared to more conventional approaches to gasification and SNG production, the bluegas process eliminates the need for an external water gas shift reactor, a methanation reactor, and air separation plant.

Pressurized steam injected into the methanation reactor fluidizes the mixture of coal or biomass feedstock and the catalyst, ensuring contact between the catalyst and the carbon. The catalyst formulation facilitates three primary chemical reactions (below) between the carbon and the steam on the surface of the coal or biomass and generates a mixture predominately composed of methane and CO2.

Steam carbon: C + H2O → CO + H2

Water-gas shift: CO + H2O → H2 + CO2

Hydro-gasification: 2H2 + C → CH4

The process recovers most of the contaminants in coal as useful by-products and, in addition, roughly half the carbon in the coal is captured as a pure CO2 stream suitable for sequestration.

In addition, GreatPoint Energy’s catalytic coal methanation process eliminates ash removal and slagging problems; reduces maintenance requirements; increases thermal efficiency; and eliminates the air separation plant (a system which accounts for 20% of the capital cost of most gasification systems).

The company is developing the technology for commercial-scale use for power generation, residential and commercial heating and production of chemicals. GreatPoint Energy has completed highly successful testing in a pilot facility in Des Plaines, Ill., and is commencing engineering for the first commercial project.

By October 2007, the company had raised more than $137 million of capital and includes as its investors: venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Advanced Technology Ventures and Khosla Ventures; financial investors such as Sustainable Development Investments, unit of Citi Alternative Investments (a division of Citi); and strategic investors Suncor Energy, Inc., The Dow Chemical Company and The AES Corporation.

As part of the agreement, Peabody and GreatPoint Energy will evaluate the potential for development of joint coal gasification projects using Peabody reserves and land.

Coal products from Peabody Energy fuel approximately 10% of all US electricity generation and more than 2% of worldwide electricity.

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Comments

Man, this sounds like a great process. Most of you could probably predict my reaction to biomass gasification for methane...woo hoo! :)

Sure, but where does the Carbon dioxide go? Oh, right. Into the atmosphere. If we can find a way to sequester the carbon dioxide produced in this process, I am all for it.

End use sequestration, what with all of the homes with natural gas furnaces, water heaters, and stoves... that's a little trickier.

If you sequestered CO2 from biomass gasification and methanation, we could be CO2 negative.

I see a lot of potential here:

-A coal fired plant has ~33% efficiency, is expensive to build, and produces (lots) of pollutants other than CO2. Transporting the coal is also a PITA and takes a great deal of energy.

-A combined cycle natural gas plant operates at ~50% efficiency, is (relatively) cheap to build, and produces very few pollutants other than CO2. Said pollutants would be completely eliminated by the use of SNG and a pure O2 burn (ceramic turbine)

-Lets say that the Great Point process recovers 80% of the energy originally in place in the coal (I remember reading that in a Fast Company article). If you take transport out of the picture, the overall efficiency is .8 x .5= 40% efficiency. Considering that pipelines are significantly less energy intensive than freight trains, the picture looks even better.

Now consider that we can fuel our vehicles with SNG, possibly using ANG tanks. A light serial hybrid using NG as the primary energy carrier, a turbocharged I4 genset, and a 1kwh battery to deal with acceleration/braking seems reasonable.

Later on, perhaps we'll find a way to use a process similar to Great Point's to produce SNG from biomass without having to deal with anaerobic digesters. Sequester the carbon and we'd be carbon negative.

GP,

I agree. I think we are converging on solutions that are practical and obtainable in the near future, without a lot of exotic technology nor excessive costs.

I too would like to see an SNG/ANG series/parallel hybrid in the near future. It would be good to get SNG online soon, so that there are no worries over supply.

I was reading that methane has 130 octane. With that, you could have substantial compression and/or turbo boost to get a lot of power out of a smaller engine. Harness that with a good hybrid configuration and we could get good mileage with good performance and really clean vehicles as well.

The SNG process will still dump most or all of the carbon in the methane to the atmosphere.  If we are looking for a solution to AGW, we need to go to hydrogen and sequester all of the carbon (even if biomass is a feedstock, because we have a lot of emissions to un-do).

If SNG is carbon neutral and half of our methane comes from that, we have cut our natural gas emissions of CO2 in half. Since H2 is hard to store, pipe and transport, it may be a while before this happens.

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