Clean Coal Technologies – Coal Gasification – opportunities, challenges, limitations

Clean Coal Technologies – Coal Gasification – opportunities, challenges, limitations

It goes beyond any doubt that coal will continue to be one of the key energy carriers driving growth in Poland, Europe and across the world. Maintaining the leading role of coal under the current EU climate policy is a challenging task and calls for the implementation of low-emission technologies involving state-of-the-art, efficient and clean power generation processes referred to as Clean Coal Technologies (“CTT”).

They include the process of above-ground coal gasification which may go in two directions. The first, principal direction is polygeneration in chemical and power systems, and the second one consists in the substitution of gaseous and liquid fuels currently obtained from oil and natural gas.

The implementation of coal gasification on a commercial scale may be of significance for companies from the chemical sector. Synthesis gas obtained in the gasification process is the basic feedstock for methanol production, and the hydrogen obtained from syngas is used to produce ammonia, the basic component for the nitrogen industry.

Currently, the fertiliser industry in Poland consumes approx. 2.5 bcm of natural gas annually. Coal gasification is also used for the production of ammonia, hydrogen and methanol.

In evaluating the conditions for the implementation of coal gasification technologies, one should bear in mind that the gasification process, apart from the gasification itself, also involves other business areas such as coal production and processing, storage and blending, as well as the disposal of waste resulting from coal production and use.

In our view, each attempt to implement CCTs should be preceded with a technology compliance analysis according to the applicable domestic and community legislation, including specifically environmental regulations.

It is not a trivial task considering that the existing regulations do not always keep up with the quickly developing market for innovative technologies.

For instance, in case of the projects implementing new coal gasification technologies, the analysis should specifically address the limitations resulting from:

  • environmental regulations, including the requirement to obtain environmental decisions, integrated permits, legal water permits, etc.;

  • regulations concerning the control of activity related to the production of fuels or electricity and the related obligation to obtain a concession for electricity generation or a concession for gas storage;

  • regulations related to the overall investment process from the design stage up to project completion, including the regulations concerning the construction process and spatial development;

  • domestic and community regulations concerning waste management with a view to finding solutions enabling the utilisation of waste produced in the gasification process, including slags and volatile ashes.

Coal gasification is undoubtedly more environmentally friendly than the combustion of natural coal in power plan boilers or domestic furnaces. During the hydrogenation process itself considerable quantities of carbon dioxide are emitted but the gas is much easier to capture in a CCT installation. The question of storage or further processing of the captured CO2 remains to be resolved. A number of technologies for both CO2 capture prior to or during the combustion process, as well as its storage have been developed globally (CCS – Carbon Capture & Storage). Underground storage of CO2 is increasingly attracting interest but in Polish conditions, according to the Geological and Mining Law it is limited to demonstration projects which conform to the conditions specified in the relevant decision of the European Commission.

The experience of many research centres concerned with the gasification technology indicates considerable flexibility of the process in terms of the application of different fuels and wastes as the input for gasification. Particularly interesting are the results of research on the combined gasification of coal, municipal waste and biomass. The possibility of combing the coal gasification process with waste creates the conditions for the resolution of issue of municipal waste disposal. The gasification technology could thus not only address the demands of the power and chemical industries but also contribute to the resolution of the question of municipal waste utilisation.

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