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Peabody Energy and GreatPoint Energy To Partner on Coal-to-Gas and Coal-to-Hydrogen Facilities with Carbon Capture and Storage

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

Peabody Energy and GreatPoint Energy signed an agreement to pursue development of coal-to-gas and coal-to-hydrogen projects in the United States and around the world with carbon capture and storage (CCS) that would achieve near-zero carbon emissions, while increasing the production of stranded oil via enhanced oil recovery. Peabody took a minority position in GreatPoint Energy, Inc. in 2008. (Earlier post.)

The projects would be developed using GreatPoint’s proprietary bluegas technology, which utilizes catalytic hydromethanation to create pure hydrogen and substitute natural gas (SNG) that is pipeline-ready in a single-stage gasification process. By comparison, syngas resulting from conventional gasification cannot be converted to pipeline quality natural gas without further processing, thereby adding cost.

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.

Because hydromethanation is a catalytic process that does not rely on combustion, it does not produce the nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur oxide (SOx) and particulate emissions typically associated with the burning of carbon feedstock. Instead, the process captures nearly all of the impurities found in coal, petroleum coke and biomass and converts them into valuable chemical-grade byproducts.

The first step in the hydromethanation process is to combine the catalyst with the feedstock in such a way as to ensure that the catalyst disperses throughout the matrix of the feedstock for effective reactivity. The catalyst/feedstock material is then loaded into the hydromethanation reactor.

Inside the reactor, pressurized steam is injected to “fluidize” the mixture and ensure constant contact between the catalyst and the carbon particles. In this environment, the catalyst facilitates multiple chemical reactions between the carbon and the steam on the surface of the coal or biomass.

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.

The hydrogen will be used for industrial applications or combusted to generate near-zero carbon electricity. The SNG can be transported in the existing pipeline infrastructure and used as fuel in home heating, power plants or industrial processes.

When the bluegas SNG is used to fuel a natural gas-fired combined-cycle power plant, it results in a GHG level that is 60% lower than the emissions level from a similarly sized coal-fired power plant, and also results in a GHG level that is lower than fueling that same plant with conventional drilled or imported natural gas.

This is due, GreatPoint says, to the fact that the conventional production of drilled natural gas has a higher GHG footprint resulting from methane leakage and gas processing compared to the mining and transportation of coal.

Catalytic hydromethanation, when combined with advanced power generation, could eliminate more than 90% of carbon emissions and nearly double the efficiency of conventional coal combustion or Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle power plants, according to a study by the US Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory cited by GreatPoint. (NETL will soon publish a report on Coal to Synthetic Natural Gas (Various Coal Ranks) as the second volume of a three-volume series on Cost and Performance Baseline for Fossil Energy Plants.

GreatPoint Energy has raised more than $150 million in equity and is backed by leading strategic investors including Peabody Energy, AES, Suncor Energy, Dow Chemical, Kleiner Perkins, and Khosla Ventures.

Peabody Energy is the world’s largest private-sector coal company, with 2009 sales of 244 million tons and $6 billion in revenues. Its coal products fuel 10% of all US electricity generation and 2% of worldwide electricity. Peabody is the only non-Chinese equity partner in GreenGen; a founding member of the FutureGen Alliance; and a founding partner of COAL21 in Australia.

Separately, the company recently filed a detailed petition with the Environmental Protection Agency urging the agency to reconsider its endangerment finding on CO2 (earlier post).

Claiming that the EPA overly relied upon the findings of the UN IPCC “whose work has since been shown to be deeply tainted by flaws”, Peabody asserted in a statement concerning the filing that “the immediacy of draconian regulation is unwarranted”.

There is no sufficient basis to implement regulations that would harm a fragile economy, further suppress investment and raise energy costs for Americans. The agency needs to step back and begin a thorough review of the real state of scientific understanding of greenhouse gases.

To the extent that long-term concern regarding greenhouse gas emissions still validly exists, climate change is at worst a long-term challenge - not the immediate crisis that has been conveyed. There is ample time to develop low-emissions technologies such as carbon capture and storage, which global agencies and multiple nations believe are essential for meeting long-term carbon goals.

—Statement from Peabody Energy

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Comments

SJC

"..substitute natural gas (SNG) that is pipeline-ready in a single-stage gasification process."

"eliminate more than 90% of carbon emissions and nearly double the efficiency of conventional coal combustion or Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle power plants.."

"(...lignites, sub-bituminous coals, tar sands, petroleum coke and petroleum resid) can be used as feedstocks."

This process has a lot going for it, making methane from coal could be one way to go. Shale natural gas and synthetic methane from biomass will as well.

Sequestration would be more viable if their was a cash inflow from the CO2. Cap and trade or carbon tax would help, but a market system where the CO2 can be used would be better.

Stan Peterson

I don't see that there is much different than ordinary syngas creation in any IGCC plant. There is no doubt that IGCC plants are thermally much more efficient, than an antiquated coal plant that it replaces. An intrinsic benefit of IGCC plants is the scrubbing of low temperature gas before burning it, to remove toxic materials. Provisions exist to do CCS in all IGCC plants.

To the degree that they must overly promote their own process to get approval for such coal plants past green loons, they can certainly do so. Even if the CCS option doubles the cost per KWh from 4-7 cents per Kwh, it is stilll cheaper than alternatives.

Such as building "renewables" like some half-witted, very intermittent windmill at 18-21 cents per KWh; or the 25 cents plus per Kwh that an intermittent Solar plant costs to produce electricity.

Mannstein

"Even if the CCS option doubles the cost per KWh from 4-7 cents per Kwh, it is stilll cheaper than alternatives. "

What planet are you living on? We are already paying 18 cents per Kwh in the North East.

Stan Peterson

Mannstein,

Thank your local PUC who has caved into every green loon around. How many 'green' generation projects have they undertaken that produce nothing; or tiny amounts power after massive expenditure. That 18-20 cents for wind is for 'nominal or rated power'. But what you get out of a windmill by Utility experience is about 8% of nameplate rated power. The real cost of a deliverable and useable KWh is then .20/.08 or $2.50 a KWh actual. Or didn't you know that?

The windmills can't run in wind under 3 mph; or they will wipe their bearings. And they can't run in wind over 8 mph; or they will fatigue and tear of their airfoils. How often do you think the wind blows precisely between between 4 and 7 mph ? Not much. Like 8% of the time.

In the absence of having the power your 'green loon' plant was to have have generated; your Utility must import power from someone else who is willing to sell it. And they will for 30+ cents a KWH plus a fee to whatever Utilities charge to move the power between the seller and buyer for use of their transmission lines.

But as reserve margins shrink, thanks to your demagogic "Consumer Advocates", fewer Utilities are allowed to have much spare power to sell, and the further you have to go to get it. And so the price climbs.

Then the governments put taxes on it.

Your price is the blended price of all the various generation methods available, plus a profit, plus all the damn taxes imposed all the way around.

That adds up. You say to 18 cents per KWh. And you wonder why industry is fleeing and moving out?

I think its is significant that there are some 35 nuclear plants in the pipeline for construction in the USA for the next decade. Not a single one in the Northeast, or West Coast.

So there are none the so-called Blue States where green loons predominate. Now the Clueless One wants a Ration and Tax energy bill; and freely says it will quintuple prices, like that was a goodness, somehow. So 18 cents a KWh will become 90 cents a KWH.

Kiss a green loon and thank him for your utiltity bill.

SJC

One of the industries that moved out of the U.S. is methanol production due to the deregulation of natural gas prices. Those industries fled to other countries with sensible regulations and stable prices.

It is said the market system self regulates. That is a nice pleasing story until you see the damage done between the time the cause creates the effect. It may right itself, but it wipes out a lot of business in the mean time.

Ike Solem

Carbon sequestration doesn't work - plus the methane will be burned in the end. That's why you can't make coal clean, no matter how much green soap you use.

The overall reaction is coal + water -> CO2 + methane, right? Every ton of coal, on combustion, produces ~2.7 tons of CO2. A plant of this type that consumed 3 million tons per year of coal would still result in some 8 millions tons of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere that year - because the methane would be burned.

The only plausible use for the CO2 stream is in Enhanced Oil Recovery - but this is all just part of the lobbyist effort, isn't it?

See this from Center for North American Energy Security, an unconventional fossil fuel lobby group:

"As a result of these developments, CNAES’s principals began a new unconventional fuels outreach program in 2007. The objective was to create a single organization to coalesce unconventional fuels advocates in all of the affected private and governmental sectors around a unified program to advance the development and use of all of the five unconventional fuels sectors studied in the Task Force report: Heavy Oil, Tar Sands, Shale Oil, Coal-to-Liquids and Enhanced Oil Recovery."

This is just more PR for dirty fuel programs that could barely limp along without massive state subsidies - all rely on an assumption of high future fossil fuel demand and $100 a barrel oil prices for profitability, don't they?

The energy sector should just admit that unconventional fossil fuels are a big mistake, and move on, despite the efforts of lobby groups:

Mr. Corcoran said there has been intense lobbying in the United States to limit the use of Canadian oil sands. "The new development is that there is pushback. A number of the major oil companies ... have substantial interests in Canada. ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Shell, have a corporate strategy to develop the oil sands and are well aware of the sizeable market here in the U.S.

On the other hand, this process might be very useful for converting biomass waste to methane. The main difference is that wood chip cellulose has more oxygen atoms than coal does, but the basic principles are the same - and methane burns far cleaner than wood does, too.

The difference with biofuels is that the carbon source was the atmosphere, not geological deposits - so burning biofuels results in no net carbon additions to the atmosphere.

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