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The Warsaw Voice » Other » December 3, 2008
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The Clean Coal Challenge
December 3, 2008   
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Marek Ściążko, director of the Institute for the Chemical Processing of Coal (ICHPW) in Zabrze, southern Poland, talks with Ewa Dereń.

Work is under way to establish a Center for Clean Coal Technologies in Poland's southern Silesia region. When will the center open and what will be its main goal?
We are currently completing all the paperwork necessary to apply for building permission. The project will be financed from funds held by the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education under the European Union's Innovative Economy program. So far the ICHPW and the Central Mining Institute (GIG) in Katowice, the project coordinator, have spent several million zlotys on documentation and design work. The center is expected to cost some 45 million euros to launch.
The project includes unique pilot installations such as pressurized coal gasification, the burning of coal in oxygen, and underground gasification. These installations will be located in three cities. Ground facilities to burn coal in oxygen and coal gasification for industrial purposes will be built in Zabrze close to the ICHPW headquarters. An underground coal gasification facility will be located in Wyry near Mikołów on the site of GIG's Barbara experimental coal mine. Meanwhile, Katowice will host a huge research facility with modern laboratories.
The pilot installations are the key to the whole project since there are no such test sites currently in Poland. There are also very few in Europe because of the high cost to build them. Pressurized combustion, known as oxycombustion, is still new in the world, as is specialized pressurized gasification. For this purpose we are creating a new type of reactor. We cannot compete in areas in which the world has outperformed us. Thus we want to carve ourselves new market niches. The center's facilities will allow us, on the one hand, to carry out research for the benefit of industry and, on the other, to become a major partner for both Polish universities and international centers.

In June, the ICHPW, together with GIG, signed a cooperation agreement with the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in the United States. What is the main goal of this agreement?
Our cooperation with the National Energy Technology Laboratory involves the exchange of information and academics and the carrying out of joint research and development projects. The agreement provides for joint efforts to improve the technical, environmental and economic aspects of technologies for the energy and chemical processing of fossil fuels. This particularly refers to coal gasification; modern technology to utilize carbon dioxide; its storage; the co-combustion of coal with other fuels; and the production of liquid fuels from coal.

The National Energy Technology Laboratory is part of the U.S. Department of Energy and currently consists of four research laboratories, which are leading the way in the U.S. clean coal program. The NETL laboratories work with industry to design and implement advanced research and development programs aimed at producing clean energy from fossil fuels. Even though the U.S. did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, one of the national laboratory's priorities is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The level of U.S. achievement in the development of clean coal technology is the highest and thus I think our cooperation with the U.S. in this field is a huge opportunity. The know-how we will garner will allow us to undertake groundbreaking work. The ICHPW and GIG today are among the top research institutions in Poland working in this field and they are striving to turn Silesia into a major European research and development center with regard to clean coal technology.

The ICHPW has for years initiated undertakings within the energy sector in Poland. What are the institute's other priorities?
The ICHPW develops its own technologies, helps implement licensed technologies in industry, and leads the way in technological know-how and development. Our basic role was always to offer practical know-how, and this is exemplified by our newest, clean-coal-technology endeavor. We want to very quickly identify the best solutions for the energy sector. Everything points to the fact that the EU directive on reducing carbon dioxide emissions will shape what we do in the coming years. However, we must prepare ourselves for this and changes could be revolutionary. This is where the ideas for our initiatives-as well as our many other undertakings aimed at developing modern technologies for the energy sector-have come from.

Besides, we have been working for this sector for years. We created standards for renewable energy and developed biomass co-combustion technology. Everything that in this area has been implemented in Poland is the result of our work. We created the Labiomen national chain of supervised laboratories, which includes 35 research laboratories sited in power plants. These research the energy properties of solid fuels, biomass and fuel-biomass mixtures in particular. We set up the chain in 2005, and a national system based on concrete standards is in place today. In the "small energy" sector, we have developed new domestic boilers with ecological certification, known as the "green apple" certificates. Polish law does not require it but manufacturers realize the importance of meeting such standards in today's world.

Now the time has come to create procedures and technologies to deal with carbon dioxide. Issues tied to clean coal technologies are difficult for energy experts because of problems related to chemical processing. Of additional interest are technologies such as coal gasification that until recently were seen as unattractive for the energy sector. This is where the institute can play a role by solving combined chemical and energy problems and transferring technological know-how to industry.

Is it true that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology could increase the cost of producing energy by around 50 percent?
Additional energy is required to remove carbon dioxide regardless of whether Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology is used or not. The efficiency of the process for this reason is reduced by 7-12 percent. Thus more coal or other fuel is required to produce the same amount of usable energy. These factors and the necessity to install additional equipment increase the investment cost for electrical energy production and thereby increase energy production costs by 50 percent, or even 70 percent, according to some estimates. However, we have no choice since the development of emission-free technology will be based on coal as the main fuel at least until 2050-and not only in Poland and Europe but across the world. The world in the long term does not have an alternative raw material to coal. In the second half of the 21st century we can expect significant changes to the way the world utilizes primary fuels because of their availability. Crude oil reserves will be depleted and natural gas resources will be limited. Inevitably, there will be a return to the widespread use of coal as the most readily available energy raw material in the world. And since it is proven that increased carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming, there is every reason to develop emission-free combustion technology. The disadvantage of CCS technology is that more coal must be mined and burned to produce the same amount of energy compared with power plants that do not separate out carbon dioxide. There is still a lack of ideas and incentives for revolutionary changes in highly efficient electricity production and for using the captured carbon dioxide in chemical synthesis instead of storing it underground.

In CCS technology, carbon dioxide is captured and stored underground. Are there any other options?
To date the technology for carbon dioxide capture and storage was never used in industry and thus there is a lack of procedures and standards in this area. However, fuel firms' experience should be taken into account. They have for years been storing carbon dioxide underground in excavations remaining after crude oil and natural gas extraction. In the U.S. there is already some 4,000 km of pipelines to transport carbon dioxide. In Europe, Norway has the most know-how in this area. Of course, there is a big difference between the level of current know-how and the eventual needs of the energy sector. Most often power plants are sited close to a large conurbation and thus the transportation and storage of carbon dioxide must be absolutely safe. A carbon-dioxide storage facility must be above all completely leak-proof. This condition is certainly met where the carbon dioxide is stored underground after the extraction of crude oil or natural gas. Other potential storage options such as water-bearing strata, coal seams or salt-water reservoirs may not offer such certainty and it is necessary to check whether these are suitable to do the job.

In Poland there are two opposing schools of thought on the subject of carbon dioxide storage. One says that up to 80 percent of the country's area could be used for the underground storage of carbon dioxide; the other holds that this is not possible geologically. Poland also has no "holes" underground resulting from crude oil or natural gas extraction, while storage under the sea bed is not an option since the Baltic Sea is too shallow. Which opinion do you think is closer to the truth?
Both ways of thinking are in fact premature. So far Poland has not seen coordinated and widespread efforts to create a map of storage possibilities and their potential capacities. Such data gathering commenced just this year and is being carried out by the Polish Geological Institute, the Central Mining Institute (GIG), and the AGH University of Science and Technology. The work will take three more years to complete. The point is that we need this data now. We are making the first decisions today regarding the building of emission-free installations, including the pilot power plants under the EU program, and we do not know where we can safely store carbon dioxide.

This is key information that is required for the planning of a new CCS power plant, because we must know whether to locate it close to a coal mine or a carbon-dioxide storage facility. Unfortunately, with regard to work on carbon dioxide storage, we are very far behind some other EU countries. To be able to even think of building an experimental power plant we must catch up pretty rapidly.

Also, as a member of the supervisory board of Tauron Polska Energia SA holding company, which owns the Southern Poland Power Company (PKE) that is currently building an emission-free power plant in Kędzierzyn, I can reveal that we are also planning our own geological surveys.

We cannot yet say very much in certainty about conditions for underground carbon dioxide storage in Poland. However, we can rather say with all certainty that carbon dioxide storage under the Baltic Sea is not possible. Should we decide to transport carbon dioxide to the sea, it would probably be to the North Sea since its geological structure is known and is being monitored and managed because of crude oil extraction. This would be a safer and cheaper option than creating new storage areas in the Baltic Sea.

Marek Ściążko graduated from the Department of Chemistry at the Silesian University of Technology in Gliwice in 1975. He spent time as a researcher in the United States where he researched coal gasification at the Pittsburgh Energy Technology Center in 1980 and the effectiveness and economy of energy systems at the Energy Environment Research Center of the University of North Dakota in 1992. He headed a Polish-German research program that was carried out in 1987-1993 at the Silesian University of Technology's Center for Coal Processing. He has been director of the Institute for the Chemical Processing of Coal (ICHPW) in Zabrze since 1991.

Ściążko is a member of international energy task forces such as the European Commission's Advisory Group for Energy-DG Research, the Coal Advisory Group-Coal and Steel Fund, and the Technology Platform for Zero-Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants (ZEP). He actively participates in developing energy policy for Poland as a member of the Energy Committee of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) and as a supervisory board member of the Tauron corporation. He has 102 scientific publications to his name, which have appeared in both national and international periodicals, and holds 38 patents.
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