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Cleaning up Coal
October 29, 2010   
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A technology for storing carbon dioxide underground and clean coal technologies including coal gasification directly in the bed—these are the main research programs of the Polish Clean Coal Technology Platform established by a group of energy-sector companies led by Vattenfall Poland.

In March 2008, the European Union adopted a special climate package under which carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in Europe are to be reduced by 20 percent by 2020. To achieve this goal, a limited number of permits will be introduced for CO2 emissions for industry along with the trade of emission permits at auctions.

This target is no small challenge for the Polish energy sector, which is 93 percent based on coal. Recently, the sector has significantly reduced its emissions of CO2 as well as nitric and sulfur oxides. Nevertheless, it remains one of the largest emitters of CO2 in Europe. In addition, as acknowledged by Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, under a rule pushed through by “old” EU member states, the EU adopted 2005 as the base year for determining the level of CO2 emissions as part of the climate package. This rule works against new EU member states because it does not take into account the efforts these countries have made toward reducing CO2 emissions throughout the 1990s and at the beginning of this decade.

The demanding target adopted in the climate package could lead to a substantial increase in the costs of energy production in Poland. The European Commission’s strict limits on CO2 emissions have already influenced many sectors of Polish industry. Clean coal technology and underground CO2 storage technologies offer an opportunity to reduce the negative effects of the CO2 emissions policy.

Both these technologies are of particular interest to Poland. By 2020, in line with the assumptions of the European Commission, the technology for the underground storage of CO2 is to become fully commercial. It is therefore necessary to overcome any technological, economic and legal barriers by that time.

European Industrial Initiative

To this end, the European Commission is preparing a project known as the European Industrial Initiative, which seeks to encourage the construction of 10 to 12 large-scale demonstration and research installations to test the technological and economic feasibility of the underground storage of CO2 in Europe.

The European Technology Platform for Zero-Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants is a partner in these projects. According to Nick Otter of Alstom Power UK, the EU targets for reducing CO2 emissions mean that the technology for the underground storage of CO2 will have to be put into commercial use. This will not be possible without a European public-private partnership that will facilitate the joint financing of pilot installations through the European Industrial Initiative, also known as the EU Flagship Program.

Financial support for research and development projects involving clean coal technologies and the geological storage of CO2 will also come from EU research programs. These are mainly the 7th Framework Program and the Research Fund for Coal and Steel. In turn, funds available under the 6th Framework Program were used to establish the European Network of Excellence for the Geological Storage of CO2. The network supports CO2 storage projects.

The Polish Clean Coal Technology Platform coordinates a program for the construction of installations for the underground storage of CO2 and for the development of clean coal technologies. The platform was launched at the end of February 2008 by nine energy companies led by Vattenfall.

The platform works with smaller companies in the sector and research institutes. It also collaborates with the European Commission and the European Technology Platform for Zero-Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants (ZEP). It supports the legislative process for bringing Polish regulations in line with EU directives and informs the public about all aspects of clean coal technologies, including their impact on the environment.

Energy from coal

According to the World Energy Council, demand for energy will double by 2050 and will involve a more than twofold increase in gas and coal consumption. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that in the next 20 years the amount of energy produced from coal will rise by 80 percent; today coal accounts for over 22 percent of energy produced in the world.

Coal therefore remains an important source of energy. Coal resources are probably 10 times those of oil and natural gas combined.

In terms of coal deposits and their extraction, Poland ranks high in the world, alongside countries such as China, Russia, India, South Africa, and Australia.

Because of the importance of coal, significant action is needed for the implementation in Poland of carbon-free methods for burning coal and CO2 sequestration. According to Łukasz Zimnoch of Vattenfall, the Polish energy sector needs the clean coal technologies being developed in many European countries to meet the challenges of reducing carbon dioxide emissions imposed by the climate package.

Jacek Piekacz, director of Vattenfall in Poland, says there are many obstacles to the use of clean coal technologies, which explains why energy companies must work together to overcome them. One example of such a joint project, Piekacz says, is the construction of Poland’s first system for capturing and storing carbon dioxide—modeled after that launched by Vattenfall in Germany near the Polish border. As part of this project, carbon dioxide will be captured, liquefied and stored underground, Piekacz says.

Due to its geological structure, Poland has huge potential for the geological storage of CO2, experts say. In the western and central parts of the country, there are porous rocks deep underground that could store large amounts of CO2.

Carbon dioxide from such a storage facility could be used to modify natural gas and oil deposits. This technology, if put to a practical use, would provide an additional amount of natural gas, allowing for a doubling of domestic production.

CCS and IGCC

The Polish Clean Coal Technology Platform is also involved in the Polish Flagship Program for Clean Coal Technologies, which is a part of a European flagship program aiming to finance 12 demonstration installations for carbon capture and storage across Europe. The European Union has earmarked up to 1 billion euros for a single installation. Projects by energy companies such as ZAK SA and PKE SA in Kędzierzyn and PGE SA in Bełchatów are designed to benefit from this money.

The first two companies want to build a Zero-Emission Energy and Chemical Complex in Kędzierzyn, according to Krzysztof Jałosiński, CEO of ZAK SA. Through the innovative use of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle (IGCC) technologies, the complex will produce not only electricity and heat, but also synthesis gas. The complex is expected to be built by 2015.

Another important project being pursued by the Polish Clean Coal Technology Platform is the gasification of coal seams underground. It is estimated that several trillion tons of coal are still available underground across the country. Many of these deposits are located so deep under the ground, or the geological conditions are so difficult, that extraction is unprofitable and would harm the environment. This state of affairs could be changed by the underground gasification of coal, spelling a revolution in the energy sector through a continuous supply of high-quality gas. One of the basic methods of gasification would be a continuous supply, through a single borehole, of air under high pressure, as a result of which carbon dioxide and combustible gases would be produced. These gases could be transported to the surface via another borehole, and after separating CO2, they could be burned to power turbine generators.

This technology, which originated in the first half of the 1980s, is especially promising. From 1980 to 2004, there was a twofold increase in gas production through coal gasification around the world. The most promising gasification method has been developed by the Texaco company and taken up and perfected by General Electric in 2004. Among today’s commercial facilities, 16 rely on a solid fuel gasification process, 28 use a water-gas conversion reaction combined with the removal of carbon dioxide from synthesis gas. Synthesis gas, in turn, is used to produce hydrogen, ammonia and methyl alcohol.

In Poland, a coal gasification complex would make it possible to generate energy from seams that are currently uneconomical to extract due to difficult geological conditions. It would also reduce the danger of mining coal in high-methane mines. The platform is conducting a research program to develop gasification technology suitable for domestic deposits and to enable a large-scale pilot installation to be built in the next few years.

Marek Mejssner

The Polish Clean Coal Technology Platform brings together the following companies:

-Vattenfall Poland
-PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna
-Południowy Koncern Energetyczny
-Elektrownia Kozienice
-EDF Polska
-Dalkia Polska
-CEZ Polska
-Electrabel Polska
-Zespół Elektrowni Ostrołęka
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