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The Warsaw Voice » Other » December 3, 2008
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Going for Zero Emissions
December 3, 2008   
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The Polish Clean Coal Technologies Platform, established in February this year, brings together the largest suppliers of energy in the country and actively lobbies for the development of a zero-emission coal-burning program under which carbon dioxide emissions would be trapped and stored underground.

Following meetings concerning the European Union's Climate Package and a summit between EU heads of state in Brussels, it turned out that the modernization of Poland's energy sector would demand more money than the previously thought zl.22 billion and that most of these costs would be borne by individual users of electricity. It was also confirmed that Poland is at the forefront of research on clean coal technologies and the recycling of power-plant waste.

Poland's coal-fired power plants, which are faced with huge investments over a period of more than 10 years, are pursuing a research and development program in collaboration with other EU-funded technology platforms working on zero-emission combustion and power plant waste-disposal technologies, such as the European Technology Platform for Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants (ETP ZEP).

The Polish Clean Coal Technologies Platform was launched Feb. 25 during a meeting at the Ministry of the Economy as an initiative by Swedish energy company Vattenfall and Poland's National Contact Point for EU Research Programs.

Apart from Vattenfall's Polish subsidiary, the platform includes: PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna SA, Południowy Koncern Energetyczny SA, Elektrownia Kozienice SA, EDF Polska Sp. z o.o., Dalkia Polska, CEZ Polska, Electrabel Polska SA, and Zespół Elektrowni Ostrołęka SA.

The platform aims to concentrate on developing clean energy technologies that can be used in Poland as well as on solving the problems involved in the safe transport of carbon dioxide and its storage in geological strata. The platform also intends to spread awareness of all aspects of clean coal technologies, including their environmental impact.

Surmounting obstacles

As Jacek Piekacz of Vattenfall Poland remarked at the platform's launch, there are many obstacles to introducing clean coal technologies (CCT) in Poland. This explains why the energy companies involved in this project have decided to unite their efforts in modernizing Poland's energy supply and implementing CCT, Piekacz said.

The first measure of the Polish Clean Coal Technologies Platform's success will be building the country's first carbon dioxide capture and storage plant, Piekacz said. Vattenfall has already built such a plant near the Polish border in Germany. It is a pilot installation for the capture, liquefaction and underground storage of carbon dioxide.

Dariusz Bogdan, the deputy economy minister, said, "The EU Energy and Climate Package calls for a radical reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, but CCT implementation and carbon dioxide storage are still relatively expensive-which makes this initiative all the more important."

The platform has joined the European debate on CCT. It has become an informal lobbying group, promoting the Polish initiative to capture, liquefy and store carbon dioxide underground within the EU.

The platform's another area of action is the implementation of CCT. Experts say the radical reduction in emissions planned under the EU Climate Package will increase the cost of energy production in Poland. Meanwhile, the negative impacts of the EU's low ceiling on carbon dioxide emissions are already being felt by several sectors of Polish industry. Underground carbon dioxide storage and CCT are an opportunity to limit these negative aspects of lowered emission ceilings.

CTT: What's in a name

Clean coal technologies are any type of technology meant to improve the efficiency of extraction, processing, or conversion of coal or waste utilization after its burning or chemical processing. The main goal is to reduce the effects of these processes on the environment and avoid the degradation of whole ecosystems, as was the case 20 years ago.

Clean coal technologies can be applied to:
  • initial extraction and mechanical processing of coal
  • transport, storage, quality selection and normalization
  • coal combustion (mostly for energy production)
  • use of coal waste produced during processing or burning

A fundamental aspect of CCT is extraction efficiency. This is measured by the percentage of coal extracted from the deposits. To minimize costs, in Poland's coal industry, coal is extracted in surface mines wherever possible. This leaves a large percentage of coal still in the deposits. Besides low efficiency, this carries the risk that the remaining deposits settle in unpredictable ways, causing more mining damage.

Coal processing, on the other hand, aims to rid coal of impurities and obtain a fairly standardized product. Obviously, in this type of standard processing it is not possible to obtain coal, which when burned, would not produce waste emissions, often above legal norms. However, it does allow the mechanical removal of non-combustible and harmful impurities.

According to the Central Mining Institute (GIG,) early-stage purification, through the removal of water and harmful impurities, raises the efficiency of the conversion of coal's chemical energy to electrical energy or heat by 2-3 percent, depending on the coal's quality. Coal can be enriched to a higher degree through so-called deep enrichment. Coal is first crushed and then subjected to one of the following demineralization procedures: oil agglomeration, heavy liquid separation, flotation, chemical separation, or electroseparation. Coal fuel after this processing is nearly free of impurities and has a high energy yield. But the cost of these technologies outweighs the benefits of high-energy coal. The research on this aspect of CCT is one of the most important yet expensive in the whole CCT chain.

A lot can also be done on the transport and storage side, experts say. According to GIG and based on statistics from Poland, the EU and the United States, more than 60 percent of mined coal is used within 50 km of the extraction site and only 10 percent is traded on the international market. However, coal is often stored for a long time, four months being the norm within the EU. The problems with transport and storage are mostly linked to loss and environmental impact. Studies led by CCT researchers recommend abandoning open-air heap-type storage and open unsecured transport. Loss due to transport and storage can be minimized by the use of substances based on heavy oils that form a hard surface layer on the stored coal and prevent movement and dispersion caused by wind.

The most active area of CCT research is the last stage of coal use, namely combustion and waste reuse. This is where the highest levels of loss and pollution occur. Zero-emission energy production from mined fuels is one of the main areas of action for the European Technology Platform for Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants.

Even the cleanest combustion leaves waste products. CCT research points to the possibility of extracting minerals from them and creating admixtures for building dams, embankments and roads, for example.

Marek Mejssner
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