Skip to Main Content

theWatt Podcast 71

Conversation about gasification of solid fuels, one of the key technologies behind clean coal, with Dr. Ben Anthony from the CANMET Energy Technology Centre of Natural Resources Canada.

Some show links:
Typical schematic of an IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) power plant:
(Courtesy of Ben Anthony)

Ben Kenney: Joining me today is Dr. Ben Anthony who is a gasification expert working at the CANMET Energy Technology Centre in Ottawa, Canada. So, thanks for coming on the show, Ben.

Ben Anthony: Oh, thank you for inviting me.

Ben Kenney: Thank you. Before we get started, of course, the show will be about gasification since you’re a gasification expert, but before we get started with that, can you just explain a bit about what the CANMET Energy Technology Centre is?

Ben Anthony: The CANMET Energy Technology Centre is in Bells Corners and it’s one of the numbers of constituent laboratories that operate under Natural Resources Canada’s mandate and different laboratories do different things. My particular area is working on energy technology varying from things like hog eating to industrial processes to electricity generation. The gasification areas really cover a couple of those areas, power generation, but also producing products, chemical synthesis, gas, hydrogen, things like that.

Ben Kenney: Okay. I kind of see it as almost in between what universities do as research and what industry wants. Is it kind of like a link between industry and research?

Ben Anthony: We would certainly like to see ourselves in that particular way. We do original work. My particular group earns about half of its budget by working for industry, maybe a little less now, but at one time certainly at that level. It could be an enormous range of contract work, test work. We have some very nice product scale facilities. In addition, we publish academic papers. My group, for instance, published 22 general papers last year on various energy topics and so, yes, a link between universities. We also have people from universities working in our labs as part of these Ph.D. masters programs and, of course, we take top students in the summer. So, yes, we have lots of links, but our main focus is ultimately to help in the broader sense Canadian industry to prosper and to advance technology in an environmentally beneficial manner.

Ben Kenney: Okay. You mentioned that it's run by Natural Resources Canada or is it a division of Natural…?

Ben Anthony: Yeah, which is the federal department. It was at one point the old Energy, Mines and Resources but it was then amalgamated into a super ministry which is now Natural Resources Canada.

Ben Kenney: We have a lot of American listeners, so I’m just trying to make the connection. I would say Natural Resources Canada is kind of similar to the US Department of Energy.

Ben Anthony: Yeah. There are lots of links. Yes, they maintain laboratories. We maintain laboratories. Yes, there are lots of links between us. In fact, we do have programs in common with US DOE.

Ben Kenney: All right. Thanks for that introduction. I should just explain how we are somewhat connected. Ben gave a presentation about gasification to the chemical engineering department at my university a couple of weeks ago and that really piqued my interest most of all because I do solid oxide fuel cell research and one of the ultimate, at least in my opinion, the ultimate technological goals for solid oxide fuel cells is to have one running off of gasified coal. That’s why I’m especially interested in coal gasification. At that presentation, did I hear you say that you were somehow connected to a university in China as well?

Ben Anthony: Well, I am a guest professor at Southeast University in Nanjing in China, so we have some very nice collaborations with Southeast and in some of the Chinese universities and it’s just a pure coincidence about half of my group are from Mainland China, so that also encourages very strong relationships with various sectors of the Chinese academic community.

Ben Kenney: So, do you spend much time in China?

Ben Anthony: I used to, but less now because half of my group is from Mainland China and they particularly enjoying going to China. I enjoy it, but obviously it's a little different. If that was the way you’re trained and that’s your home country originally, so they tend to go to these meetings more than I do nowadays, but we have for instance a Chinese visiting scholar over with us up until the end of last summer working for one year on some of our equipment on a technology called oxy-fuel fluidized bed combustion. So, we have very strong Chinese connections.

Ben Kenney: I know China uses a lot of coal, so I’m glad that they’re interested in this type of gasification researches. Before we delve into gasification, I was just flipping through the latest BP statistical review and I just thought that I would read out some of the stats that I found to be kind of interesting. The US, if we’re talking about coal, the US has 27% of the world’s proven coal reserves, so I think realistically at the moment it’s difficult to envision a future without coal right now, especially since it can be converted into a liquid fuel so easily, which we will get into I think. That’s one thing that the US doesn’t have is liquid fuel. Also, the price of coal in the US, at least for Central Appalachia coal actually has increased. Since the year 2000, it has increased by 100% compared to 130% for the price of oil, but it’s still cheaper than oil, although I haven’t looked at it on dollar per energy content, but I would assume that it would still be quite a bit cheaper than oil at the moment.

Ben Anthony: Well, coal is an abundant fuel. It’s found pretty much everywhere in the world. I mean there are various debates about how long of an energy future we can build on coal ignoring for the moment greenhouse warming, which we can’t ignore, I know. You have seen figures going up to 200 to 300 years and I’ve seen some sort of querying of that sort of thing. Well, maybe there's not as much good quality coal as we thought in the midst sort of a hundred years, but however you cut it, there’s a lot of coal available and I think it will be used whether we will or not. The hope is to use it in an environmental benign way.

Ben Kenney: Actually, that was the next point that I wanted to get to. BP statistical review says that we have about 196 years of coal left. That’s a current consumption if we include the fact that coal is now one of the fastest growing fossil fuels. In 2006, it grew by 4.5%, so we factor in that growth rate by the magic of exponential growth, then that 196 years of coal drops to 51 years of coal, but that assumes that we don’t find any more coal, of course.

Ben Anthony: This is not the department’s view and, in fact, I don’t know the department’s view, but my own conviction is that we have to start changing the way we do things in many, many areas, but what I hope to do as a research scientist is provide technologies [unintelligible] technologies that give us sort of a stopgap. I don’t honestly envisage a world in which the populations continue to increase and our use of resources continue to increase at any exponential rate, but ultimately we realize that none of these things are sustainable. The only things that are truly sustainable are sunlight. The energy from the sun for all practical purposes is infinite if we can find good ways of harnessing it. So, what I’m hoping to do is develop very clean technologies or be part of a -- it's actually a very large group of people working on developing technologies that will give us a 10-, 20-, 30-year breather while we come up with better ideas and we restrain our use of natural resources. I don’t see an unlimited exponential growth, but that's a personal view. On the other hand, it is the one that I believe. So, what I’m trying to do is work on things that makes sense that could be brought into the market even now or within the next 5 to 10 years and could benefit Canadians and, in the largest sense, benefit humanity.

Ben Kenney: Certainly, I think there are definitely things that we can do to use fossil fuels more responsibly and I think just trying to improve the efficiency of coal power is one of the ways of using it more responsibly I think. So with that, do you want to start getting into the topic of what gasification…?

Ben Anthony: Well, I guess, ultimately, you have to say, well, what is gasification? Gasification in its simplest is taking a solid or liquid fuel and turning it into a gas and you ask, "Well, why would you want to do that?" and there are a number of reasons. One, we are very good at actually at burning gas and the technologies around dealing with natural gas are wonderful. If natural gas was available in unlimited amounts, it would be the only fuel that we would play with. So, fossil fuels are obviously not nearly as convenient. The other thing is that they come with a lot of materials [unintelligible] elements like fluorine and chlorine and, obviously, heavy metals. What gasification does is it turns the fuel into a gas and then that gas can be cleaned, whereas, if you burn something directly because of the nature of our atmosphere, that 80% of it is nitrogen, or 79%, it means that you then produce very large volumes of gas, which have to be cleaned. It is much more economical to clean the smaller volumes of gas used in gasification, which turns that fuel essentially into a mixture of CO and hydrogen, a little bit of methane. The other thing is that the coal burning technologies all operate at pressures. So, once again, you have much smaller volumes and so things like, for instance, motor cleanups are much easier. It is simply a lot more economic to treat a small volume of high-pressured gas than a very large volume of gas typically at atmospheric pressure with the conventional combustion cycle. So, gasification ultimately is the cleanest way of burning fuels because ultimately that’s what you do. You take the gas and then you burn it in the turbine or if you do things right and if you have the appropriate technology, you can start using the energy in the fuel and essentially producing hydrogen, which could drive fuel cells assuming that fuel cell technology becomes cheap enough and reliable enough to be operated to utility scale and what I’m hearing is mostly good news in those areas.

Ben Kenney: Although with solid oxide fuel cells, of course, you don’t need pure hydrogen.

Ben Anthony: No, but they used to be very, very sensitive. They certainly don’t like sulfa and, again, in gasification, you can do a very, very good cleanup, which is extremely attractive and you can produce the kind of gas that can be converted with minimal penalty in terms of having very exotic materials at the other end are very complicated technologies to operate a fuel cell or a turbine.

Ben Kenney: So, basically you put in a solid fuel into the gasifier and then you get a gas stream and that gas stream is composed of hydrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide…

Ben Anthony: Yeah. Obviously, the carbon dioxide is hydrogen and to a lesser extent, methane, which are the energy supplier. So, it's basically partial oxidation. That’s really what gasification is. It’s oxygen lean or fuel-rich combustion. As I said, it’s easier to treat small volumes of gas streams and the coal gasification that you’re thinking of uses almost pure oxygen. So, we get rid of nitrogen so the volumes are smaller still.

Ben Kenney: That is one of the points that I kind of wanted to talk about as well, the flexibility of gasification because you don’t just have to be feeding in coal. You can feed in pretty much any solid fuel, isn’t that right?

Ben Anthony: Yes. In the Canadian context, one can think of asphaltenes, [unintelligible] and some of the products from the oil sands certainly are ideal targets for gasification. Petroleum coke is a particularly attractive one. I think Syncrude at this moment stockpile is about 4000 tons a day of petrol and coke with a very good heating value of fuel and that works wonderfully well in a gas as do range of pitches, bottoms, and things like that. So, it really doesn’t matter. Again, you can have biomass gasification. The limit with biomass gasification is that normally there's not enough biomass in any one area to operate a large gasifier, so people have actually worked their way around that and there are technologies, for instance, with biomass where you gasify the biomass and then it's fed into a conventional coal combustion system and there are technologies like [unintelligible] where that was done in practice, but generally the limit is that for large facilities which process hundreds of tons of fuel an hour, there's not enough of biomass in one location, but ultimately it really doesn’t matter as long as you can actually feed it into the gasifier, you can convert it into a gas and then all of the sort of technologies that are extremely well developed to handle the fuel gases can be employed after you’ve done this sort of cleanup.

Ben Kenney: But the operating conditions of the gasifier would change depending on the fuel type?

Ben Anthony: Yes. Typically, you’re operating a gasifier with coal or asphaltene or those sorts of materials. You would be operating at temperatures of around 1400 to 1600 Celsius and most gasifiers now are operating at pressures around 30 bar or thereabouts, so those would be very, very typical. There are, of course, high temperature atmospheric gasifiers for coal, but they are less common. Now, it’s mainly the high pressure varieties that dominate the market. For biomass, you can do biomass gasification at much more moderate temperatures, 600 to 700 Celsius, those sorts of temperatures. You can also do it with air blown cycles, although you produce a fuel gas with less calorific value and then there are also some very elegant technologies in which you actually do dual-bed gasification and in that, basically, the gasification is driven by hot solids instead of a fluid bed arrangement where one chamber you actually have combustion producing hot sand or hot material, which is then fed into the gasifier and it cracks the material in the presence of reduced amount of oxygen or air or steam to produce a higher value calorific gas, which can then be fed to an engine. There are enormous numbers of variants on gasification technology, but you’re right. It depends on the kind of fuel, but the technologies that are going to dominate the Canadian picture, in the near term future, the big technologies that are going to be deployed in Alberta with the oil sand are always going to be this little high pressure, oxygen-blown cycles.

Ben Kenney: Okay. You mentioned that usually biomass isn’t readily available or not always in the right quantities. Could you use a gas fire with half-biomass/half-coal, for instance?

Ben Anthony: Absolutely. Certainly, you have to be able to feed it and some conventional gasifier operates with 60 micron particles, so you have to be able to reduce the biomass if you’re going to feed it into a conventional gasifier, but providing you can get it into the system, then in principle it doesn’t matter whether you have 5% or 50%; it’s just that you’re not very likely to have 50% or it’s going to be available at seasonal. One way around that has been this development of technology where you have a small gasifier which actually sits connected to a large combustor, coal-fired combustor, or even it could be an oil-fired combustor and you have actually the biomass available, you gasify it, and you pass the variation of gas directly into the larger combustor. In that way, you can operate with any amount of biomass that’s available since biomass is very seasonal. That’s a very effective way of dealing with biomass.

Ben Kenney: Okay. Can we start talking about maybe the history of gasification? Because it has a pretty interesting history I think.

Ben Anthony: Gasification, it's like fuel cells, it's an old technology. So, our computers is just a dimension, yet another technology. It started over 200 years with the manufacture of town gas, again, because town gas could be piped and used at seven points of location, whereas, dealing with coal is not really as convenient. I remember. I’m sufficiently old to have actually made fires with coal. I had coal scuttles, etc., and aside from pollution issues that are associated with that, gas is so much more convenient to handle. It was then picked up by the Germans in World War II to produce gasoline and diesel from coals and gas using Fischer-Trope process. Some more of the more important development is also in South Africa where the whole Sasol processes were developed using Lurgi gasifiers, the German gasifier, and again that was the situation in which South Africa was under embargo for [unintelligible] and so the technology was developed at a very high level, but interesting enough, it's continued and it's one of the real success stories in South Africa. The Sasol plants are enormous. They employ lots of people. They’re very, very impressive. They process about 90,000 tons of coal a day into about 160,000 barrels of transportation fuel, again, using Fischer-Tropes. Gasification has a long history and has been used in those sorts of situations in which oil and the conventional materials have not been available to people and, of course, as we look into future and we see higher and higher oil prices, it's easy to envisage a future in which coal is being used again everywhere in that particular way whether coal is available for 160 years, definitely I think 50 years implies a kind of growth that I don’t think is likely to happen or a hundred years. It's easy to see that coal could dominate again for this kind of market.

Ben Kenney: So, is Sasol the only major company doing the Fischer-Tropes at the moment?

Ben Anthony: No, the other people use the Fischer-Tropes process but they started in 1955, so they were one of the big important first in industrial uses after the Germans in World War II and they developed it to an extremely high pitch. There have been other gasifier occasion processes that have developed in the 1980s. The Dakota Gasification Company started up a unit which converts 16,000 tons per day of North Dakota lignite to produce synthetic natural gas, fertilizers and chemicals, that’s one example. Eastman Chemicals at Kingsport, Tennessee, began gasifying Central Appalachian [unintelligible] coal in 1903. So, there are a lot of other examples of the use of gasification of Fischer-Tropes producing the gases which are then converted into methanol, acetic acid, chemicals, transportation fuels, whatever you so choose, so by no means unique, but Sasol is just one of the biggest and most impressive. I think they have 97 gasifiers and I was told when I visited the plant that if you put all the piping end-to-end in that particular plant, it would go around the Earth twice. I don’t know if that’s true, but it's very impressive in size.

Ben Kenney: You mentioned that they were using a German gasifier.

Ben Anthony: It was a Lurgi gasifier, yes. Lurgi was one of the big companies developing gasification technology and since then, of course, there have been various different types of gasification technologies that have come to the fore. GE Energy, formerly Texaco Processes, has a major gasifier. Conoco-Phillips has a major gasifier. Siemens has a major gasifier. Of course, another very big name is Shell Global Solutions, they are very important, they are also involved in some of the early demonstrations of the most advanced form of gasification technology, IGCC Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, which is particularly suitable for power generation or developed for power generation. So, there are a number of big players in terms of gasification now, but Sasol is still involved in big projects throughout the world and is still producing impressive technical results.

Ben Kenney: In terms of the applications for gasification -- I'm just looking through your presentation here. It looks like most of the momentum is towards IGCC power plants. Is that a fair statement, do you think?

Ben Anthony: Well, I would say that it depends on your perspective. From my perspective, because I have been involved throughout my career in power generation with larger plants, IGCC is ultimately the technology that in my view should be used to convert coal. There are some very good alternative contenders, super critical, conventional coal combustion, pulverized coal combustion is very cheap with very high efficiency, but what gasification ultimately offers is the cleanest way of converting fossil fuels into whatever products or energy. I guess trigen is an expression used where you aim to produce heat, electricity and chemicals, so that’s the sort of big development. There are major gasification developments coming in Canada because of the oil sands expansion. There is a tremendous need for hydrogen, which gasification alone can really supply in a meaningful way if you’re not going to simply use natural gas to make your hydrogen and if you want to use fossil fuels or if you want to use asphaltenes or materials other than gasification. In the Canadian context, I’d argue that there’s no doubt that the kind of gasification that I’ve been involved in is particularly important, but there are a number of small companies [unintelligible] that's offering a gasification to technology which can be used with municipal solid wastes, [unintelligible] that offers fixed bed gasification that can be used with biomass and there's a Canadian company that has been very successful. There are other kinds of developments but the big expensive developments, the ones that will essentially convert the materials in the oil sands, the ones that would provide power to major cities I think are the sort of IGCC types of application.

Ben Kenney: Some of the listeners might not know exactly how IGCC works, but it's Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, and basically you gasify something like coal and then you have a micro turbine or gas turbine.

Ben Anthony: Well, you don’t have a micro turbine in that kind of situation. What you do is you gasify the coal into gas, the gas is cleaned up and then it goes and it's burnt in what is essentially a conventional turbine technology or something and you integrate the systems to various levels. At one point, people made very tight integrated systems and then the availability, the time the gasifier would operate reliably was reduced because if something went wrong with one system, everything went down. So, they make systems that are less integrated, but integration basically gives you high efficiency so that you can be in this sort of middle 1940s electric power production.

Ben Kenney: But the combined cycle part comes from the fact that you’re using a gas turbine with a steam turbine as well.

Ben Anthony: Yes. So, there are various configurations that people use in that particular context, but, yes, that's correct. Ultimately, what you have is this extremely clean production of energy with the lowest nitrogen oxide, the lowest sulfur oxide, and in particular it’s a cheap cleanup of mercury if you have mercury in your fuels. So, gasification is enormously effective. You can of course also start developing technologies with zero emissions of CO2 if you want it built around the gasification system as well. So, they’re more efficient. They’re basically offering you combustion efficient seasons, sort of middle 1940s or something, compared with the middle 1930s which is sort of standard coal and then they are extremely clean.

Ben Kenney: When you say the middle 1940s and the middle 1930s, that doesn’t include sequestering the carbon, does it?

Ben Anthony: No. Once you enter sequestering CO2, that’s a sort of, well, I mean that pulls the efficiencies down somewhat, but gasification does come with good methods. At least as you make the gas, you can take out the CO2 that’s produced in the gas up from what you can conveniently do is take the CO2 out of the turbine technology at the back end and if you’re going to do that kind of thing, then what you’re going to have to do is probably operate some kind of shift reactor and make hydrogen and then you got two choices. You can either burn the hydrogen specially designed turbine or alternatively, you can start using fuel cells. Those sorts of ideas, well, they were expressed in the FutureGen project which as you’ve noticed has been cancelled, but those are ultimately very promising solutions and, certainly, hydrogen production. There's a [unintelligible] project for instance that probably will go ahead in Alberta which will be producing hydrogen from coal. Those projects offer you potentials, zero emissions of CO2 assuming that you got somewhere to put the CO2 after you've generated a pure stream. The economists typically say that about 80% of the cost is involved in getting that PO CO2 stream and 20% of the cost is actually putting them in the ground, but that's somebody else’s technology. The good news in the Canadian context is that all the sites for geologic sequestration are found in Western Canada where coal is predominantly used, so in Canadian context at least this is a wonderful potential fit.

Ben Kenney: You mentioned FutureGen projects and it was recently cancelled. Can you maybe explain what the FutureGen project was and what its goals were?

Ben Anthony: Its goals were really coal to hydrogen. Everybody knows I think now who is interested in any kind of technology that hydrogen is the ultimate kind of fuel in the sense that when it's converted to energy, its end product is water. It might be tiny depending on how it's converted, a tiny amount of nitrogen oxide, but hydrogen is potentially the cleanest possible fuel. The problem is that there is no natural source of hydrogen and so you have to make it. So, really, the goal of FutureGen and all those similar technologies is called hydrogen. From my point of view, it’s quite unfortunate that this project didn't go ahead, but however I do believe that ultimately this is an unstoppable development and that’s the way that people will ultimately use coal.

Ben Kenney: I’m not too sure that -- it is not as if the FutureGen project just died. I think it's just that they want to separate out the individual technologies I think. Yeah, so, one part was the carbon capture and sequestration and then the other part of it was the production of hydrogen and those two things are fairly well established right now.

Ben Anthony: Yeah, I think what I would like to see and what I think is necessary is a major demonstration. I think what people need is to increase their confidence that these technologies can be deployed, can be made reliable, and can be operated. Mostly, advanced technology of this kind of scale tends to develop in stages. As people produce demonstration projects, they and become experienced with them, they solve the problems, and then at some point the technology is generally accepted and you start to see major expansions. No, FutureGen is not dead in the ultimate sense. None of these technologies are dead. It's just that I would like to see them proceed faster rather than slower and certainly in the Canadian content because of the oil sand, as mentioned, gasification is really increasing in leaps and bounds. It’s going to be a growing major technology in the not too distant future in the Canadian context.

Ben Kenney: Also, maybe I should mention one thing about the FutureGen project is I think there’s an agreement between the US and China I think to transfer technology especially advanced coal power plant technology to China. That is one of the alternatives to Kyoto I think is the…

Ben Anthony: Yeah. There are numerous kinds of developments going on. I think what shouldn’t be forgotten in the Canadian context is that the Canadian Clean Power Coalition and it has spent about the last seven years and several million dollars studying a number of critical factors for IGCC and oxy-fuel combustion. It looks like at least two of its members will be adapting some kind of advanced combustion technology. So, I think they are also happening in the Canadian context. My own department has recently funded a [unintelligible] study, an engineering study for EPCOR on a new gasifier. They already have Canada’s first super critical conventional coal combustion and there is some real chance that they will actually build a gas fund. This would be very, very exciting because it would mean that two advanced technologies would be situated side by side and it would be a wonderful opportunity to learn some very valuable lessons. So, things are happening in the Canadian context too particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Ben Kenney: So, I suppose like all these technologies' cost is really holding the development?

Ben Anthony: Yeah. Well, there are combinations of factors. There are concerns of reliability, but I think gasification has really, well, there are already a lot of operational gasifiers, gasification has been rapidly improving and then [unintelligible] and in the oil sands situation, really, gasification is about the only technology that you can deploy and so it's moving ahead. What’s limiting it at this point is that there is simply not enough infrastructure to put up multiple gasifiers. You don’t have that much steel, you don’t have that much labor, and there’s a very sort of exhilarated development now with carrying with the American need for transportation fuels and Canada being the secure source of them in the oil sands. Now, this technology is limited to some extent by cost, limited to some extent by the fact that we just don’t have enough infrastructure to put up all units that ideally we would like, and of course when there’s great demand on that infrastructure, then cost go up again.

Ben Kenney: Well, I think that is about all the questions that I have. Is there anything else that you think we should be adding to this?

Ben Anthony: What I think I'd like to say about gasification ultimately is that it is potentially the cleanest way in my view of converting coal to whatever, to heat energy and chemicals available, and for that reason alone, it seems to me that it should dominate in the future and that ultimately if you have CO2 sequestration which in the Canadian context we can have because coal is used in the areas where the best sequestration sites are found, then gasification is a perfect fit.

Ben Kenney: Actually, I have seen some cost estimates where they say that if you do want to sequester your carbon, then going the gasification route is probably going to be cheaper than some of the…

Ben Anthony: Yes. The general statistics would suggest that if you’re doing CO2 sequestration, then gasification is the optimum choice and it starts to have a competitive advantage of the alternatives, although I would have to be fair. I would have to say that like all of these things, you know, you have groups of people trying to improve their technologies and develop their technologies, so it's never exactly a fix situation. People working on [unintelligible] are trying to develop better materials, cheaper materials, and similarly the people developing gasification, people like myself are obviously trying to make it cheaper and better. So, you have to actually look at the current situation, but the estimates and the evaluations that I see today all suggest that if you put in CO2 sequestration as a requirement, then gasification starts to come out near the top again.

Ben Kenney: I really like the fact that gasification is so flexible as well because it’s not only flexible in terms of the fuel that you put in, but also flexible in terms of the products that you can make with the syngas as well.

Ben Anthony: Yes, I think that is a particularly attractive feature of gasification technology and one of its very real strengths. I hope I’ve given your listeners at least the idea that this is a technology of potential tremendous importance with extreme flexibility. From my perspective, because it's potentially also the cleanest way of converting coal, ultimately, I think it’s the one that’s going to dominate. I say that as an advocate, so you can give them whatever quote you like on that, but I do believe that there is a rational basis for that particular view.

Ben Kenney: Well, thank you so much for giving us your two cents on gasification, Ben.

Ben Anthony: You’re welcome.

Ben Kenney: Thanks again.

Ben Anthony: More than welcome. I should add that anyone who is particularly interested in gasification are always welcome to contact me and we can always arrange a visit of our labs and our facilities if there is anyone who is particularly interested.

Ben Kenney: Yeah. I will put up a link to the website. I know there’s a website for your research group somewhere, so I’ll put up a link to that. Okay, great.

Ben Anthony: Thank you. Goodbye.

Ben Kenney: Thank you.

Coal reserves

Here's some more info on where I found my info on coal reserves:

From the BP statistical review:

Total world reserves (as of 2006): 909064 million tonnes
Total world consumption: 3090.1 million tonnes oil equivalent

Conversion factors:
1 tonne oil equivalent = 1.5 tonnes hard coal (this is the conversion factor that I used)
1 tonne oil equivalent = 3 tonnes of lignite

So, total reserves ~ 606042 million tonnes oil equivalent

2006 reserves/2006 consumption = 196 years
Note: The 196 years is my calculation, BP says that there are currently 147 years left at current production, they must have used an average conversion factor of ~ 2 tonnes coal = 1 tonne oil equivalent or either that or production of coal is quite a bit larger than consumption of coal.

With the 2006 growth rate of coal of 4.5%, there is 51 years left.
Or, with the conservative estimate by the DOE of 1.8% growth rate (at least until 2030), there is 83 years left.

Re: theWatt Podcast 71

Hello Ben,

It was an interesting interview. Here my comment:
1. To call it "clean coal" is a marketing re-branding of a quite dirty energy source. You have several negative impacts of coal and its gasification.
a. Getting the coal from the ground. Mining destroys vast areas of land and makes water in the area polluted with heavy metals. In China you also have huge problems with coal fires in the ground in coal mines that emits huge amounts of CO2 and dangerous gases. (The fires start due to the mining activities.)
b. The vitrified and sulfur solids need to be handled in a safe way. It can not just be dumped in nature since they contains lot of dangerous chemicals.
c. CO2 emissions: Burning coal, and to a lesser degree "clean or gasified coal" will emit CO2. Something that emits lots of co2 can not be branded as "green" in my opinion. You need to be able to pump CO2 into the ground to be able to call it green in this aspect. Since there is virtually no CO2 that is being pumped into the ground today from any coal driven plant I think that this so called "green coal" needs to prove its virtues as described above before we call it "green goal".
Bottom line: “It is easy to brand something green; it is more difficult to really be green.”

I thought it was unfortunate that you did not discuss the CO2 issues more in detail with Mr. Ben Anthony and what can be done with it and how it compares with normal coal plants.
That being said, I think it was a very good interview!


Re: theWatt Podcast 71

Yes, you're right, we didn't talk about the impacts of actually mining coal, which can be quite devastating. I think the important take home message is that you don't actually need coal for an IGCC power plant and that the efficiency of IGCC is higher than typical pulverized coal power plants. I think Ben Anthony's research is focusing at the moment on gasification of petroleum coke and other solids that are byproducts of upgrading bitumen in the oilsands.

I'm not sure if anybody used the term green coal (I do my best to avoid the word green in all cases). Even cleaner coal has a lot of emissions, but: 1) the emissions are more easily managed than typical coal power plants and 2) it's hard to picture a scenario where coal isn't used, so if we must use it, it's worthwhile using it as efficiently as possible.

I hope to talk to somebody specifically about CO2 sequestration, but I have no leads at the moment.

Re: theWatt Podcast 71

Hello Ben,

Sorry, I mixed up your term-usage of green coal with clean coal. I meant clean coal. I wrote the post before I had my first cup of coffee...
And I agree with your point that this gasification process seems to be far better then the current coal burning.
It would be great if you can do a piece on CO2 sequestration. You might want to get in touch with Professor Frank Schilling GFZ Tel. ++49 (0)331 - 288 2329
See this video for details:

Statoil in Norway has implemented on of the largest co2 separation plant in the world. Perhaps you can get an interview with one of the key people in the project mentioned in this article: