Coal-to-Clean Fuels and Power Project, United States of America

The US government has long been looking for an alternative energy source to reduce reliance on the oil producing nations. A technology developed by WMPI Pty LLC (Waste Management and Processors, Inc) has been taken by the government for further research and development to sustain the country's energy demands.

Early Entry Co-Production (EECP) energy plants are being developed to change a range of hydrocarbon feedstock into electricity, heat, high quality transportation fuels and various chemicals (as opposed to current plants that produce only energy).

Following completion of the EECP research, development and testing program in 2003 by the Department of Energy (DOE), a new EECP plant is planned for Gilberton, Schuylkill County, PA.

Three DOE projects have begun with the development of an effective EECP process in mind. The multi-product facilities will co-produce transportation fuels (low sulphur clean diesel), chemicals, electric power, process heat, etc., from various waste coal and anthracite feed-stocks, and is seen as the first step on a pollution-free high energy fuel.

FINANCE

Total estimated cost of the plant is $612.5 million although the DOE sees it as a demonstration process, and therefore will underwrite the project to keep costs down. Pennsylvania State has already promised $47 million in Transferable Investment Tax Credit (TITC) for coal waste removal and ultra-clean fuels towards the project.

Finance includes $465 million in private financing - coordinated by the investment banking firm of Morgan Stanley - and $100 million in Federal participation through the US Department of Energy's Clean Coal Power Initiative (CCPI).

HISTORY BEHIND THE TECHNOLOGY

The DOE began work in August 1999 with WMPI and a project team of companies including Texaco, Nexant (a Bechtel consulting company) and SASOL to research ways to integrate gasification and liquefaction. Techno-economic feasibility tests of an EECP ran from 2001-2003 and cost $12 million. This part of the program proved to be successful.

The drive is part of the US Government's CCPI, which is estimated to be sharing a $4 billion budget with industry leaders over a ten-year period. The costs are being shared between private companies and governmental agencies. The technology is based on the gasification of waste coal residue, followed by a liquefaction process to produce sulphur-free low particle diesel.

Pennsylvania is estimated to have over 34 billion t of coal and waste coal in ground reserves, and the US as a whole 1,600 billion t. If these figures are true, the US has 811 years of coal energy remaining in reserves. After coal has been mined and sorted there is a combination of waste coal particles and silt left over. This can be used as the feedstock for the new technology.

PLANT CONSTRUCTION

It is hoped that the Gilberton project will reclaim large areas of Schuylkill County from the acres of anthracite culm piles and silt ponds that cover the area (these will provide the necessary feed-stocks). The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has suggested that there is over 250,000 acres of abandoned wasteland that were previously coalmines. This is therefore an environmental clean-up and energy production win-win situation.

WMPI Pty LLC, based in Gilberton, is currently (2005) in a position to construct the new facilities. WMPI Pty LLC's first plant will be a 5,000b/d facility built on a 75-acre site adjacent to the existing Gilberton Power Plant.

The technology and engineering team to design, engineer and construct the plant includes Nexant Inc, Shell Global Solutions US, Uhde, SASOL Technology Ltd, Linde and ChevronTexaco. The plant will take approximately three years to build. Subsequently, WMPI Pty LLC will develop, own and operate advanced world-scale coal to oil and power facilities in other locations.

CO-PRODUCTION OF ELECTRICITY AND AUTOMOTIVE FUELS

The slurry of hydrocarbons and water will be heated in a gasifier to over 2,500°F and mixed with oxygen via oxygen blown gasifiers. This gasification of the feedstock produces synthesis gas (syngas) and water. The wastewater can then be pumped back into the process and an environmentally-benign aggregate by-product resembling brown crushed glass is then removed, which can be used for the production of concrete and plaster, or as a backfill.

The syngas is put through cyclones, which get rid of some fine particles. Yellow sulphur is removed at this stage, which can be sold to pharmaceutical companies. The remaining clean syngas will then be added to a slurry phase vessel and mixed with catalysts to produce steam and paraffin, which can then be processed to produce a high-cetane, zero-percent sulphur and nitrogen, low aromatic and low particulate petroleum-based fuel. The excess tail gas will be pumped through the adjacent co-generation plant to produce electricity.

Texaco's Gasification Process (TGP) will be used for the initial stages. TGP is a non-catalytic partial oxidation process producing syngas, which contains carbon monoxide and hydrogen from organic materials. This will be followed by Sasol's slurry phase Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) process to provide the high-quality fuel and power.

The transportation fuels produced will be in the form of ultra-clean high-cetane diesel fuel from the F-T process and contain no sulphur or aromatics. The F-T naphtha can be upgraded to clean-burning reformulated gasoline. F-T naphtha is also an excellent feedstock for steam cracking for olefin production, or as onboard reforming feed for fuel-cell powered vehicles.

PROJECT REQUIREMENTS

The project needs to be sited near a mine mouth or waste heap where there is a steady supply of the raw material run-of-mine coal. The site size will be approximately 1,500 acres. The project feedstock requirements are 12,000,000t/yr (400,000,000t over the 35-year lifetime of the project) of 10,000 BTU run-of-mine coal or coal dust waste.

The plant will also require approximately 22,000,000gal/d of water and power transmission facilities sufficient for 100MW export. Transportation links are necessary to export the chemical and fuel products.

ENVIRONMENT, EMPLOYMENT AND DEPENDENCY

The high-ash coal waste is an extremely low cost feedstock. The technology also provides an environmental benefit as it reclaims the land and eliminates the potential pollution problem of acid mine drainage into groundwater and streams that could be caused by the waste. It will also reduce emissions through ultra-clean fuels and convert low-value materials such as coal refuse efficiently to clean and valuable products as well as producing clean electricity.

The Schuylkill County region, the location of the Gilberton Coal-to-Clean Fuels and Power Project, is a severely economically depressed area. The WMPI Project will create 1,000 high paying jobs during construction, more than 150 high quality permanent jobs at the project site and approx. 600 permanent offsite jobs. The success of this project will certainly reduce dependency on foreign oil and act as a key element in President Bush's plan to help America make the transition to a hydrogen fuelled society. The environmental impact assessment for the project ran from March 2003 to November 2004 and concluded that the project showed the necessary merit.

FUTURE PROJECTS

Future potential sites for this type of project have been found in other previously coal rich states such as West Virginia (which has the potential to produce between 5,000bpd and 57,000bpd), Kentucky (57,000bpd) and Illinois (57,000bpd). Obviously the Gilberton project is still only a 'pilot' scale and depending upon success future sites will be at least ten times bigger.

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