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Alter NRG Proposing Canada’s First Coal-to-Liquids Project

Wpc
Cross-section of the WPC Plasma Gasification Reactor. Click to enlarge.

Alter NRG Corp. is proposing a Coal-to-Liquids (CTL) project that will use the company’s coal reserves in the Fox Creek Area of Alberta, Canada as a feedstock to produce synthetic diesel fuel and naphtha. The project, with a targeted production capacity of 40,000 barrels per day (bbls/d), will require an investment of approximately C$4.5 billion.

Alter NRG will gasify the solid coal feedstock (Westinghouse Plasma Corporation is a subsidiary of Alter NRG) to produce a syngas that will be processed by a Fischer-Tropsch reactor into liquids with a primary emphasis on low sulfur, high-cetane diesel (33,000 bbls/d), but also naphtha (7,000 bbls/d), which is used as a bitumen diluent by the nearby oil sands industry.

The gasification process also has the ability to capture a relatively pure stream of CO2 suitable for sequestration or enhanced oil recovery (EOR) opportunities in the local area. Alter NRG plans to capture more than 85% of the produced CO2 for sale in EOR. In the event that not all CO2 can be disposed of in this way, the project plans to sequester remaining CO2 in deep saline aquifers or in depleted oil or gas pools.

Alternrgctl
The gasification and Fischer-Tropsch components of the proposed Alter NRG CTL project. Click to enlarge.

The electrical power produced from the project is expected to meet the power requirements needed to run the coal mine and CTL operations. Surplus power, if any generated, will be marketed in Alberta through the existing electrical grid system.

Alter NRG intends to develop the project in at least two stages, with the first stage potentially producing upwards of 20,000 bbls/d.

Engineering and environmental studies are planned to be carried out for the remainder of 2008 and all of 2009. These studies will form the basis of the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Project. Submission of the project regulatory application is targeted for the end of 2009.

Alter NRG is anticipating an 18-month regulatory review period. Construction will begin soon after receipt of all necessary approvals. Alter NRG plans to start up mining operations by the fall of 2013, to pre-build coal supply for startup of the CTL plant in early 2014. The CTL plant will require a longer engineering design and construction period than the mine.

The Company initiated a strategic partner selection process in early 2008 and expects to provide further details on the development pathway and financing plans at the conclusion of the process in the later part of 2008.

Resources

Comments

aym

And desperation leads to this. Does anyone actually think that the product of this is going to be for canadians or it just going to be shipped to the US.

Environmental impact studies of resource exploitation, especially in Alberta are notoriously pro-industry, with people from the industry sitting on the boards themselves. At least that is what happens with the tar sands impact studies.

Axil

The Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-liquid (CTL) process has three reactions to yield hydrocarbon fuels. These reactions require a great deal of heat, heat derived from coal combustion. This process is referred to as Indirect Liquefaction. A major disadvantage of the technique is that the amount of coal used for heat in the coal-to-liquid process is greater than the amount converted to fuel. As a result, this process produces large amounts slag, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides, not to mention a waste of coal.


The Direct Liquefaction process developed by Nobel Laureate Friedrich Bergius in 1921 requires only one step where hydrogen is combined directly with pulverized coal under high pressure and temperature to produce various hydrocarbons depending on process variables. The H2 in current coal-to-liquid plants (and in WWII Germany) is produced by the same chemical reactions used in the initial step of the Fischer-Tropsch process, i.e., it is obtained from heating coal with high-pressure steam producing hydrogen and carbon monoxide (C + H2O —> H2 + CO).

In the NRG Coal-to-Liquids Project, there is a large amount of wasted CO2 because of a lack of H2. This CO2 is not GW friendly and costly to mitigate.

But the creation of this pollutant can be avoided by adding the hydrogen with heat from a new generation of super-safe nuclear reactors. This will utilize ever carbon atom in the coal feedstock thereby minimizing the environmental impact of the entire project.


“Pebble Bed Modular Reactor” (PBMR) uses several hundred thousand baseball-sized fuel spheres, each of which contains 15,000 coated, grain-of-sand-sized fuel kernels. The pyrolytic graphite and silicon carbide layers coating the fuel kernels have melting temperatures far above that of the maximum equilibrium temperature of the reactor, making a meltdown impossible.

In traditional nuclear power plants (which are already extremely safe), water is used as a “moderator” to slow down neutrons so the nuclear reaction can occur, and also as a coolant and heat-transfer medium. In a Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, cooling is accomplished by piping helium through the pebble bed, with the spaces between fuel spheres serving as “pipes.” The pyrolytic graphite coating of the fuel kernels serves as the moderator. Since the helium is not made radioactive by the neutron flux in the reactor, it can be sent directly though a turbine generator to produce electricity or, in this case, used to provide ample heat for the Bergius process.

The process works like this. The feedstock is fed into the coal-to-liquid processor where the crushed coal is liquefied by heat derived from a Pebble Bed Modular Reactor. Additional reactor heat is used to generate hydrogen from water. The hydrogen and coal react to produce a variety of hydrocarbon fuels based on the process temperatures and pressures, with diesel fuel being the most desirable. Diesel fuel, which has the highest specific energy of the hydrocarbon fuels, provides “gas mileage” twice that of ethanol and 40 percent higher than gasoline.

Canada is not paralyzed by the fear of nuclear power or deviation from the ill advised continuance of light water reactor technology.

The very small, fail safe, and inexpensive PBMR is under consideration in Canada for use in the tar sands industry. If economics is a determining factor, it will be used there.

NRG should consider this potential breakthrough in CTL production and reconsider their design.

Nice post Axil. Your description of the processes is very clear. Thanks. I agree that nuclear fission processes will likely be a bridge to the fusion future energy paradigm. I've lived in Alberta a couple of times and I feel sorry to see people change to worrying about the Co2 emissions and blaming Alta.

ayn

Very nice, Axil. Combining nuclear with fossil fuels processing such as CTL, oil sands, and shale oil, offers solutions to most of the problems of those technologies. Only die-hard lefty envirofossils continue to stand in the way of a more energetic future. Shame on them.

Pebble bed pebbles may need some work to make sure they do not jam at the outlet, interfere with control rods, or become susceptible to graphite fires, but all that can be done and solved.

HarveyD

Axil:

Correct me if I'm wrong but no PBMR has ever been built. The first prototype could start been built in SA in 2010 with earliest potential commissioning in 2013+. The first commercial site could start being built by 2016+ and would not be operational before 2020+.

This concept has a long way to go yet before we see many commercial units in operation.

However, other existing up-to-date reactors could do the job. A Westinghouse unit could be built in about 5 to 6 years.

arnold

So should we be proposing the waste of one form of energy in this case Axil, nuclear whatever to 'save wasting another I E coal.
There is no excuse for waste in ANY energy technology when we consider that the non renewables are just that.
The fossil era is best left well behind. No thinking person would argue that.
Some though persist in arguing the irrational side off thier fantasies (not that I have a problem with fantasy. )

Apparently we in Australia are being sold (or told) the "Clean Coal" development for the 'sake of the planet' mantra.
No choice, just this or nothing. The justification being that we are a major exporter with an economy almost entirely based on extractive industries in particular coal and secondly minerals like iron ore , aluminium et al, which is now mostly exported either unprocessed or primary processed state.

My take on the selling of this clean carbon market and the way it is sold is that if we don't sell and develop our (best practice) resource, that others will sell their dirty slave trade product into the insatiable international market.
Some sprukers are not shy to point out that the withholding of our resources places us at increased risk of military invasion (extortion with menaces.)
Now I know we alliance of modern western democracies have a neat little line when it suits that goes
"We don't not deal with terrorists"
I guess it depends if those 'Terrorists' are your mates!

My view of 'clean coal' is not 'flattering'
The technical challenges are mind numbingly painful and the stuff is (mostly) not hurting anyone where nature put it - no doubt for good reason.

We are dealing here with with these two very difficult nuts 1; human greed - the stealing of our children's birthright and returning to them the legacy of our garbage. 2; Being asked to embark on a course of investing our wealth and expertise into a very dark horse of carbon sequestration.

For me the second point above is a long odd of russian roulette, the first is a suicide note that should be compulsory reading.

But Axil and others please don't try and sell me the line that clean nuclear can be used to make clean coal while having anything to do with the Internationally well understood objective of zero CO2 emissions.
Some of the more objective readers here recognise the need for carbon negative technology. They are obviously well read on International scientific consensus on climate change.
Nuclear - clean or otherwise is not one of the desirable new 'sustainable' renewable ways of producing energy for the masses in harmony with nature.

Personally I am happy to be pragmatic as far as supporting those technologies that are supporting this objective on in the short - medium term of say 200 years while leaving some natural resources for our children's children.
It is up to us , no spacemen are going to do this for us and we aren't going to evolve into any better being anytime soon. We are the most fortunate generation and are the most educated, capable generation and arerapidly gaining the ability to turn around our destructive nature.
If you've been paying attention, then take a 10 minute break.

Andy

Errr, didn't anyone actually read the article or is this just the usual CTL = evil coal company rhetoric.

The article clearly states that the CO2 produced in the production of liquid fuel will be sequestered either as a value added Enhanced Oil Recovery sale to an oil field operator or in saline aquifers.

Thus no CO2 produced in the production of the fuel, in this respect this is better than a normal oil refinery.

Andy

Mad Max


Dear Axil,

would be possible to feed natural gas (i.e. CH4) instead of hydrogen into the reactor?

Axil

@ HarveyD

In China, the prototype HTR-10 has been up for some time. Here is a video that shows it, the walk away loss of coolant test, the waste storage behind a wooden door; the pebble fuel, how it looks and how it is made, and the building itself.

http://www.abc.net.au/science/broadband/catalyst/asx/chinaNuclear_hi.asx

In China , the project production site received environmental clearance in March 2008 for construction start in 2009 and commissioning by 2013.

http://nextbigfuture.com/2008_06_01_archive.html

Axil

@ Mad Max

Anything made of carbon can be used including only CO2.

Axil

@Andy

It takes a lot of additional capital, coal, energy from coal. In coal electric power plants it doubles the power costs. This not and environmental augment, it is an economic and resource utilization augment.

HarveyD

Axil:

Yes, Tsinghua University in Beijing, China apparently designed, built and operated a small university prototype PBMR for some times.

A German small prototype unit operated for 21 years before it was decommissionned.

The first commercial unit apparently went online in Germany in 1983 but was decommissionned shorthly therafter due to design and/or construction flaws.

Various design papers are being presented for approval in USA.

Given the past history of PBMR, it may still be a long way from being a mature technology. I doubt that the tar sands industry would use it for another 15 to 20 years.

Axil

@HarveyD

A German small prototype unit operated for 21 years before it was decommissionned.
The first commercial unit apparently went online in Germany in 1983 but was decommissionned shorthly therafter due to design and/or construction flaws.

The German research reactor vented an undetermined amount of radiation, because an operator broke a pebble when he tried to dislodge it from a jam. The accident happened right after Chernobyl and political pressure caused the discontinuation of all German nuclear energy.

The pebble handling in current pebble bed designs is completely automated to eliminate human risk and error.

Various design papers are being presented for approval in USA.

The N.R.C. is criminally understaffed and the few nuclear engineers that are there only know Light Water Reactor design. It might take many years for the US to get around to certifying new types of reactor designs.

Given the past history of PBMR, it may still be a long way from being a mature technology.

The Chinese have certified the design and are commercialize it now.

I doubt that the tar sands industry would use it for another 15 to 20 years.


Canada can buy from the Chinese. I am sure they will sell to Canada.

They need to do a financial study

40,000 barrels per day (bbls/d), will require an investment of approximately C$4.5 billion.

How much wind power generating capacity will C$4.5 billion purchase?.

How many factories producing solar panels could be built for C$4.5 billion.

More fossil fuel is not the greatest investment from a sustainable world perspective.

Axil

Since this tread has a coal subject, please forgive me for a stretch in topic.

I am greatly concerned over coal and the view that coal is cheap as dirt and can be wasted. You might not want to use coal but others do.


Reference:

http://www.moneymorning.com/2008/07/21/how-coal-shortages-in-china-will-spark-more-foreign-takeovers-of-u.s.-assets/
Excerpt:

How Coal Shortages in China Will Spark More Foreign Takeovers of U.S. Assets


The top eight U.S. coal producers, which are worth more than $50 billion, are possible takeover targets for a country desperate for resources. And compared with China, American coal companies are bargains.

American, Canadian, and Australian coal may be acquired by China. If you don’t want nuclear forced on you; protect your coal reserves.


arnold

Protect for a long time, long enough so that by the time we need consider the use of it that we will no longer need it?

In the meantime it seems everyone has so many tons of CO2 they would pay you to take away and That is an appropriate source of carbon for synthesis to Hydrocarbon fuels.

I wouldn't suggest using nuclear grid to perform the conversion but with all the 'fluctuating' (above 20%) renewable that we are warned "will make the grid (so)'uncontrollable" there is another raw (input) material that can be sourced very cheaply.

I would have thought there could be many industries that could operate in a grid dumping or fluctuating mode those that come to mind include cement kilns and mills aluminium furnace , refrigeration reserve storage, - your turn.

Just about anything that can be currently supplied by off peak grid let alone the ones that can with some work and imagination be seen as not time critical.

It may be a while before the price signals mandate this approach, but as the demand for electrical power increases against the limits to supply, it stand reason that this level of efficiency will come to be a new growth ndustry.

In this brief history of transportable nuclear systems, it is ineresting to read the comments that describe how Russa will not supply thier plant (technology) to anyone , only the product.
But arent they (Russia) assisting Iran with thier Nuclear program, America, England and France are supplying to China, Australia (was) planning to supply India? I guess the Isaeli's invented thier ideas in a vaccum?
It would seem the only one telling the truth was Saddam. Unless I'm badly mistaken.

http://www.nuclear.com/n-plants/index-Floating_N-plants.html

allen_xl_z

Axil,
Maybe THEN we will outlaw mountain top removal coal.

_While CTL is not renewable and has a large environmental footprint, it is a good transition technology IF:

1) the transition is short (20 yrs or less).

2) all CTL plants are converted to BTL.

_Strategically, CTL plants are a good deal. They allow energy independence in the long term by creating a bridge to BTL and IGCC. Coal provides a reliable feedstock until biomass/waste supply schemes are solidified. While it is preferable to go straight to renewable raw materials, investors will prefer to have the security that coal will afford.
_Long term, coal will recede in importance, though if enough is left in the ground, it will serve an important role as a strategic energy reserve. An ace up ones sleeves, if you will, for contingencies.

____Heres a thought: Sequester CO2 from biomass fired IGCC electric power plants in basalt formations to form solid carbonates.

arnold

Good comments Allen_
By then (strategic worse case scenario), we will have a better understanding of our influences on this planetary system or it really wont matter for us anyway.

Last grist for the mill,
some rhetorical questions at the risk of being a bore.
How much subsidy and grants have nuclear industry received from the public coffers? To what end?.

The fossil fuel industries? To what end?

Solar... Wind.... other alts?

Are we all all asleep to the bigger game?

stas peterson

I believe the Westinghouse-Toshiba nuclear plant builders, purchased the assets of the PBR research done by the South Africans. If I am not mistaken this technology is the closest to any actual build-able design, but like the other reported PBRs, are GEN IV designs that won't really be ready until circa 2020.

The NRC has its hands full certifying the standard designs of Westinghouse, GE, Areva (France) and perhaps the Korean derivative designs. These are all of the GEN III+ generation, and represent most of the reactors being ordered and built worldwide, except for the Russian VVERS.

For the next several years, the NRC will be doing that; and then monitoring the construction of the 30 odd reactors that will start pouring concrete starting in 2010-2011 time frame.

Only when this Nuclear Renaissance is well advanced, and well in hand, will both the builders and the regulators really turn to GEN IV in detail. That's why it is unlikely that PBRs are much more than a dream before post 2020.

But the GEN III+ designs are walk away plants now, just like the PBRs, and just as meltdown proof.

They 'perfected' the LWR design with massive expansion of the cooling and re-cooling capacity, and implemented natural recirculation sufficient to cool down the reactor without any human intervention or pumps working. When the GEN III+ scrams, there is nothing that has to be done. Totally unlike the present operating LWRs. The designs incorporated modified core designs to easily burn MOX, and will thus ber able to permanently consume some 15,000 cold war nuclear warheads. The designs can perform even the French LWR "Actinide Burning" of transuranics. That means, they start to eliminate the long-lived high level waste too, making the Yucca Death Valley despository safe in only a few hundred years instead of thousands of years.

Why do you think Patrick Moore, and I among other former critics, now endorse this nuclear technology?

stas peterson

I believe the Westinghouse-Toshiba nuclear plant builders, purchased the assets of the PBR research done by the South Africans. If I am not mistaken this technology is the closest to any actual build-able design, but like the other reported PBRs, are GEN IV designs that won't really be ready until circa 2020.

The NRC has its hands full certifying the standard designs of Westinghouse, GE, Areva (France) and perhaps the Korean derivative designs. These are all of the GEN III+ generation, and represent most of the reactors being ordered and built worldwide, except for the Russian VVERS.

For the next several years, the NRC will be doing that; and then monitoring the construction of the 30 odd reactors that will start pouring concrete starting in 2010-2011 time frame.

Only when this Nuclear Renaissance is well advanced, and well in hand, will both the builders and the regulators really turn to GEN IV in detail. That's why it is unlikely that PBRs are much more than a dream before post 2020.

But the GEN III+ designs are walk away plants now, just like the PBRs, and just as meltdown proof.

They 'perfected' the LWR design with massive expansion of the cooling and re-cooling capacity, and implemented natural recirculation sufficient to cool down the reactor without any human intervention or pumps working. When the GEN III+ scrams, there is nothing that has to be done. Totally unlike the present operating LWRs. The designs incorporated modified core designs to easily burn MOX, and will thus ber able to permanently consume some 15,000 cold war nuclear warheads. The designs can perform even the French LWR "Actinide Burning" of transuranics. That means, they start to eliminate the long-lived high level waste too, making the Yucca Death Valley despository safe in only a few hundred years instead of thousands of years.

Why do you think Patrick Moore, and I among other former critics, now endorse this nuclear technology?

Axil

@arnold


So should we be proposing the waste of one form of energy in this case Axil, nuclear whatever to 'save wasting another I E coal.

I don’t think that we are wasting nuclear fuel.

Reference:

http://www.spartonres.ca/pressreleases/PR2007Apr4.htm

Except:

The test work is being done under the direction of Lyntek Inc. of Denver, Colorado USA, and represents early stage testing of fly ash and bottom ash samples from Xiaolongtang that contain approximately 0.46 pounds of U308 per tonne of ash (160-180 parts per million uranium).

You can extract a ½ lb of nuclear fuel from every ton of bottom of the pile coal fly ash you have.

the stealing of our children's birthright and returning to them the legacy of our garbage.

I think that the Chinese will use most of your Australian coal in 20 years, if they don’t buy up the US coal supply.

CO2 sequestration of coal gas uses twice the energy for the same Kilowatt produced.
You have to burn twice as much clean coal to get the same electric output as you generate now.

But Axil and others please don't try and sell me the line that clean nuclear can be used to make clean coal while having anything to do with the Internationally well understood objective of zero CO2 emissions.

I think that Australia should get their electricity from Geothermal not coal. The 10k geo map shows the north and center of the country look good for Geothermal. Your mates will need to do a lot of drilling, but their tough lot.

medium term of say 200 years while leaving some natural resources for our children's children.

The Chinese will drain Australia dry of every natural resource and soon. Start a political movement to stop it!

….capable generation and are rapidly gaining the ability to turn around our destructive nature.

It is not your destructive nature, turn around those Chinese!

The USA knows all about sucking up their own resources then slurping up the rest of worlds.

Here they go again, not enogh oil for their freakishly large workmans trucks. Have a go at their own coal and gas now. When that's done, invade some poor country with the remainder of the coal and gas. Nobody gives a damn about sustainability.

Call this green car congress? I don't get it. It should be called I'm all right in the USA and stuff the rest of the world.

Give me and the Chinese a break.

Ooops ... Canada's a state right?

the rest is about right :)

arnold

Axil,
I can see how you can suggest that your proposal is from the perspective you argue is not a waste.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf30.html

I do wonder how you can claim to argue using one dirty technology over another when you are in effect you appear to be advocating using both to achieve a third dirty (polluting) outcome as if this would somehow make it better.

An ongoing concern that I share with many is that we will use every available drop and bucket of anything that burns or blows up on cue.
There is no real attempt to clean up the dirty old emitters, they seem to be given imprimatur from both state and client to continue unchallenged.
The new plants we are discussing are additive. No old pant is going offline when this proposal is commissioned.

In the manner of 'if it moves, shoot it - if it doesn't cut it down' approach.
I allude to the human condition as being somewhat blind to this tendency in relation to energy consumption - not so much whether we should be inclined or mesmerised by the power or utility of energy as such (a classic catch 22) but the apparent willingness to trade not just our own well being , but the future world we leave behind.
This doesn't even start to get real to the prospect that we dont actually own the planet we are obliged to share with other species.
The real damage that we do to their future we do to ourselves.
Given that there needs be restraint and some degree of sacrifice of our desires to have any chance of satisfactory outcomes I can't really understand the business as usual (only call it green (er) and we'll be right attitude.
Science is great but it doesn't make the world we live in. Responsibility in technology demands a whole world view if it is not to become so myopic and self centered as to leave us all in an unsustainable paradigm.
Many would say that we are there already.
Many choose to get on with the job in front with open eyes knowing there is in the words of Kristofferson and Foster - freedoms just another word for - nothing left to lose.

Oh, and the UK is another state, right? The rest is about right :)

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