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Peabody and ConocoPhillips Exploring Development of Coal to Synthetic Natural Gas Project

The methanation pathway for the production of SNG. Click to enlarge.

Peabody Energy and ConocoPhillips are exploring the development of a commercial scale coal-to-substitute natural gas (SNG) facility using proprietary ConocoPhillips E-GAS gasifier technology.

The project would be developed as a mine-mouth facility at a location where Peabody has access to large reserves and existing infrastructure. It would be designed to produce 50 billion to 70 billion cubic feet of pipeline quality SNG annually from more than 3.5 million tons of Midwest sourced coal. In addition, presuming there is a supportive regulatory framework in place, the project scope will provide for carbon capture and storage.

There are a variety of production pathways the syngas resulting from coal (or other feedstock, such as biomass) gasification can take. One such is a Fischer-Tropsch pathway for the production of liquid fuels and chemicals. Another is a methanation pathway for the production of SNG. The methanation pathway has the following steps:

  • Coal gasification to produces a hydrogen- and carbon monoxide-rich syngas;

  • Shift reaction to adjust the ratio between hydrogen and CO;

  • Removal of sour gases in a washing process; and

  • Methanation: the catalytic reaction of carbon oxides and hydrogen to form methane (CH4), followed by drying and compression.

The basic methanation reactions are as follows:

CO + 3H2 → CH4 + H2O

CO2 + 4H2 → CH4 + 2H2O

Some researchers have argued that co-production of liquid fuels and SNG using both F-T and methanation pathways is the most economically efficient.

Peabody and ConocoPhillips would participate in project ownership along with other potential equity partners. The preliminary design and economic assessment is expected to be complete in early 2008.

Natural gas demand has grown rapidly in recent years, and development of coal-to-SNG projects is gaining increasing interest. In a 2006 study, the National Coal Council called for using coal to provide at least 15% of US natural gas consumption, or 4 trillion cubic feet per year using nearly 350 million tons of coal annually. (Earlier post.)

Peabody Energy is the world’s largest private-sector coal company, with 2006 sales of 248 million tons of coal and $5.3 billion in revenues. Its coal products fuel approximately 10% percent of all US electricity generation and more than 2% of worldwide electricity.

In 2005, Peabody took a 30% stake in Econo-Power International Corporation, which owns and markets modular coal gasifiers for industrial applications.



P Schager

I'm not sure why that link on biosourced natural gas is there, although it certainly provides a counterpoint to the argument for the coal. Coal-to-natural gas is not a good idea environmentally, especially when they don't mention sequestration. The major argument you can give for it is that it could prevent autocrats of Russia and Iran from getting too full of themselves over their huge (claimed) reserves of gas. But biogas can last forever, and could do that job as long as we're also maintaining limits on fossil fuel use worldwide. Biogas could be especially competitive in time if it relies mostly on efficiently-harvested solar energy and wastes no captured carbon.

Paul Dietz

If the CO2 side stream from biogas production is sequestered, the process can be carbon negative.

The indirect steam-blown gasification option is also interesting in that one can imagine extending the biomass resource with nuclear-generated steam, rather than producing the steam with combustion heat.


Paul: could you please elaborate, I'm not sure how you can take carbon out of the ground turn it into NG, burn the NG somewhere else and wind up carbon negative.

Reality Czech

He said "CO2 side stream from biogas production".

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