ZeroGen aims to be first with clean coal power
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