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Ignite Energy Resources and TRUenergy Plan Direct Coal-to-Liquids and Coal Drying Demo Project for Supercritical Water Technology

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Ignite Energy Resources supercritical water process diagram. Source: IER. Click to enlarge.

Ignite Energy Resources (IER), developer of a supercritical water technology, and TRUenergy have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop a commercial demonstration plant that will apply IER’s direct coal-to-oil and upgraded dry coal process to the brown coal at TRUenergy’s Yallourn mine in Australia.

IER’s proprietary supercritical water technology (SCW) transforms low-ranked coals, including lignite, directly into higher-valued oils and cleaner coal products. IER’s Hydrothermal Reactor (HTR) technology depolymerizes lignite and biomass by using SCW to cut it directly into oils and upgraded cleaner coal products—i.e., not via an indirect pathway (gasification) as in Fischer-Tropsch processes. IER claims that its process generates 60% less CO2 than the most widely available coal-to-liquids technology and can generate clean fuels from biomass that are carbon negative.

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The region for supercritical fluids. Source: IER. Click to enlarge.

Supercritical water is water above its critical point—the temperature and pressure under which phase boundaries (between solids, liquids and gases) cease to exist. Supercritical water dissociates into OH- (base) and H+ (acid) molecules, creating a substance that is simultaneously a strong acid and a strong base. Although normally acids and bases neutralize each other, they can’t at supercritical temperatures and pressures, IER says. The strong acids and bases attack weak links in organic polymers, which are broken directly into valuable oils and solid products.

The facility will be developed in three modules to process up to 60,000 tonnes of high moisture content brown coal per year that will produce up to 60,000 barrels of IER high grade oils and 18,000 tonnes of high-grade dry coal.

IER’s operating reactor at Somersby, NSW converts one dry tonne of Gippsland Basin lignite into approximately two barrels of oil and 0.6 tonnes of high-ranked coal. Independent reports predict that the resulting high-ranked coal will reduce CO2 emissions by 40% , compared to lignite when used for power generation.

Subject to feasibility studies and based on the operating Somersby reactor design, IER will build and operate a commercial-scale reactor at the TRUenergy site.

Work is expected to begin in mid-July with the initial plant operating by the second quarter of 2010. The modular plant design, using multiple reactors, allows for expansion beyond the initial 20,000 tonnes per year scale.

IER is based in Sydney and has patents pending over the supercritical water reactor which is central to the conversion process. Apart from IER’s plant in Somersby, it has certain rights to significant, proven reserves of lignite through a Gippsland Basin Exploration Licence.

TRUenergy is one of Australia’s largest, integrated energy businesses, providing electricity and gas for approximately 1.3 million residential, small and large business accounts across Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, the ACT and Queensland.

TRUenergy’s generation portfolio spans coal, gas and renewable energy. In addition to the 1480MW Yallourn power station, TRUenergy recently commissioned the 420MW combined cycle gas plant at Tallawarra, NSW, and also owns a 180MW gas-fired power station at Hallett in South Australia. It also manages the CLP Group’s 50% interest in the Roaring 40s wind joint venture and has invested in the Paralana geothermal project in South Australia.

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