NETL: Project could make coal gasification 'economically competi - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

NETL: Project could make coal gasification 'economically competitive'

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The National Energy Technology Laboratory says an ongoing Department of Energy project could make coal gasification economically competitive.

In a $29.9 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne developed a "high-pressure dry-solids feed pump that could make gasification economically competitive by improving efficiencies and introducing low-rank Western coal as a viable feedstock option."

Gasified coal can be used to produce power, chemicals and alternative fuels with few air emissions, byproducts or wastewater. Attempts to scale coal gasification plants to the level of commercial viability have ran into troubles of making ends meet economically.

"Today's commercial dry-feed gasification systems are limited to processing pressures of about 450 psi. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne's feed pump more than doubles those pressures to 1,000 psi," the NETL releases states. "Higher system pressures mean higher system efficiencies; higher efficiencies translate into less coal used to produce power and other products. Capital, operations, and maintenance costs are lower and resources are extended."

The project may be good for coal, but may not immediately benefit producers in Appalachia. While experimenters are looking at various grades of coal and coal-blends, the more expensive, higher-quality coal sold in Appalachia may not be necessary to the process.

The process can use lower-grade, cheaper coal for the process – which is found in abundance in Western states.

"Low-rank coal contains less energy per pound than higher-ranked bituminous coal, so it is typically considered too low in energy density for current slurry-fed gasification systems. However, approximately 50 percent of the coal produced in the United States is low-rank sub-bituminous coal and lignite, mined predominantly in the western states," the release states. "The ability of the system to use these lower-cost feedstocks can further enhance the option of gasification and provide an economic boon to low-rank-coal-producing states like North Dakota, Wyoming, and Texas."

Adopting coal gasification technology could lead to significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and use less water to produce power. It would also open up new markets for coal reserves that have not been as attractive in the past.

"With broad commercialization of gasification in the United States, especially with the option of using low-rank coal, adoption of gasification technology could be realized around the world," the NETL states. "India, China, Turkey, Australia, and Eastern Europe, in particular, have considerable reserves of low-rank coal."

According to the NETL, the first Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne commercial-scale high-pressure dry-solids feed pump was commissioned at the Environmental and Engineering Research Center in North Dakota on April 10. The pump will undergo 9 to 12 months of demonstration-scale testing to determine the pump's flexibility in handling feed types, particle sizes and pressure ranges.

"To generate data to predict the maximum safe pressure gradient across the pump, testing will be performed on grind sizes typical for most entrained gasifiers, on larger particle size coal grinds, and on various types of feed, including coal and a coal-biomass blend," states a paper describing the project. "This will confirm the pump's ability  to be used for a wide range of feed types, and various gasifier manufacturer designs."

 If the project is successful the pump will be available to industry for commercial use.

According to the news release, the project is a collaborative effort among Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, the Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company, Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions, and the Environmental and Engineering Research Center at the University of North Dakota.

More information on the project can be found at the NETL website.

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