Monday, March 19, 2007

The United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal.

So says the author in this interesting article about the state of the coal business.

The article says in part:

"In the 1990s, the Energy Department funded a new kind of coal plant. Instead of pulverizing coal to burn it, engineers turned coal into a gas. Coal gasification wasn't new. Long before Edison opened the Pearl Street station, a rough form of gasified coal - called town gas - was used to light streets in many cities. Cleaner natural gas replaced town gas in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, although it is still burned in China and elsewhere. But the coal gasification plants pioneered by the Energy Department were unique. By gasifying the coal, engineers discovered it could be cleansed of nearly all pollutants, a major breakthrough for controlling emissions. The process, called IGCC for integrated gasification combined cycle technology, is used commercially today at only four plants in the world, two in the United States: one near Tampa, Fla., and another on the Wabash River near Terre Haute, Ind. They are among the world's cleanest power plants, having eliminated more than 90 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions and 98 percent of sulfur from coal. But they also are significantly more expensive to build than pulverized coal plants, which is why there are only two in the country."

Wikipedia has this explanation of the workings of an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle power plant. The article suggests that some in Europe but none of the IGCC experiments in the United States have been successful, and concludes: "Given the extreme cost of IGCC, heavy subsidies necessary to facilitate construction, and particularly because carbon capture and storage is so far in the future, it is doubtful that it can gain a foothold in the market."

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