ZeroGen aims to be first with clean coal power

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources - Keith Orchi­son

QUEENS­LAND Pre­mier Anna Bligh sees the ZeroGen project as putting her state in pole po­si­tion to de­liver the world’s first clean coal power sta­tion. Her Gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted $100 mil­lion — four-fifths of the ini­tial cost — to a fea­si­bil­ity study to de­liver an 80MW demon­stra­tion plant near Rock­hamp­ton by 2012, one that cap­tures and stores car­bon diox­ide and leads to a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion by 2017.

The Gov­ern­ment has $900 mil­lion avail­able in to­tal to fund clean coal tech­nol­ogy — and the full cap­i­tal cost of a com­mer­cial ZeroGen op­er­a­tion is es­ti­mated at $1.7 bil­lion. The $25 mil­lion bal­ance of the trial project cost is be­ing pro­vided by the coal in­dus­try.

If the project is suc­cess­ful, the in­vest­ment will re­sult in a 300MW de­vel­op­ment that des­patches car­bon diox­ide 220 kilo­me­tres to the Deni­son Trough for stor­age in deep saline reser­voirs, prob­a­bly lo­cated along­side the gov­ern­ment-owned, con­ven­tion­ally coal­fired Stan­well power sta­tion .

While Queens­land gov­ern­ment owns ZeroGen, tech­ni­cal di­rec­tion is be­ing pro­vided by the Shell en­ergy com­pany, which has an op­tion to ac­quire 10 per cent eq­uity in the project. Other par­tic­i­pants in the study in­clude the Amer­i­can Elec­tric Power Re­search In­sti­tute and the gi­ant US-based man­u­fac­turer GE Elec­tric.

The tech­no­log­i­cal core of the con­cept is con­ver­sion of coal to a hy­dro­gen-rich gas and car­bon diox­ide. The gas will be burned in a high-ef­fi­ciency tur­bine to pro­duce elec­tric­ity and the CO piped away un­der high pres­sure for stor­age.

De­spite the clean coal’’ tag, ZeroGen will not be an emis­sions-free power sta­tion. About 70 per cent of the demon­stra­tion plant’s green­house gas emis­sions are in­tended to be cap­tured, and the project is de­signed to de­liver a com­mer­cial plant that will have car­bon diox­ide emis­sions about 40 per cent less than those from a com­pa­ra­ble-sized con­ven­tional nat­u­ral gas-fired op­er­a­tion.

Kelly Tham­bimuthu, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Aus­tralia’s Cen­tre for Low Emis­sions Tech­nol­ogy, says the project is im­por­tant be­cause this coun­try re­lies on coal for 80 per cent of its elec­tric­ity — com­pared with a global share of power sup­ply for coal of 40 per cent.

When the tech­nol­ogy is fully de­vel­oped it could re­move be­tween 85 and 95 per cent of coal plant emis­sions eco­nom­i­cally,’’ he says.

The World Coal In­sti­tute sees ZeroGen as the num­ber one in­ter­na­tional clean coal demon­stra­tion project. It has taken on new sig­nif­i­cance af­ter the US Gov­ern­ment re­cently de­cided to halt fi­nan­cial sup­port for the Fu­tureGen joint ven­ture with in­dus­try be­cause of con­cern over costs.

Pre­ston Chiaro, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Tinto’s en­ergy and min­er­als di­vi­sion, says the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion de­ci­sion has the po­ten­tial to set back coal cap­ture and se­ques­tra­tion tech­nol­ogy in the US, and per­haps world­wide, by three to five years.

Chiaro says a num­ber of other CCS projects an­nounced in re­cent years are cur­rently dead in the wa­ter as a re­sult of less than bril­liant gov­ern­ment sup­port schemes’’ and none of them was as ad­vanced as Fu­tureGen.

How­ever, In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency green­house re­search pro­gram man­ager John Gale be­lieves that there is a change of po­lit­i­cal will emerg­ing in the Euro­pean Union and Nor­way, which, he says, may com­mis­sion a project to cap­ture CO emis­sions from a nat­u­ral gas plant by as early as 2011.

Gale adds that the IEA fore­sees Aus­tralia, with ZeroGen, be­ing the first na­tion to in­tro­duce a CCS project for coal, fol­lowed by de­vel­op­ments in Ger­many and Hol­land. The Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment has said it also will put up $400 mil­lion to sup­port de­vel­op­ment of a coal-fired CCS op­er­a­tion by 2014.

While the ZeroGen con­cept, and oth­ers like it, pro­vide a ray of hope for the coal in­dus­try for fu­ture power sta­tion de­vel­op­ment, it does not solve the sur­vival prob­lem con­fronting ex­ist­ing Aus­tralian coal plants, many of them gov­ern­ment-owned, in a world of car­bon charges. The gasi­fi­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy be­ing pur­sued with ZeroGen is not suit­able for retrofitting to ex­ist­ing power sta­tions.

Un­der­way: ZeroGen sur­vey drilling

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