CCUS Options for Coal Plant Conversion

Editor’s note: This article was originally published to the ACC’s online magazine website ( in July, 2014. It has been moved to the Coalblog as part of our redesign of our online publications.

Opportunities and research available to form solutions

By Walter James O’Brien

CCUS Options for Coal Plant Conversion
No one in history has ever won a purely defensive war. Even with no U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory constraints, coal industries must deploy their Spreadsheet Army of generation planners and CFOs to aggressively address the problems of shrinking demand, the high cost of upgrade money, unavailability of engaged and adequately trained employees, the destabilizing financial impact of disruptive technological innovation and the rising cost of maintaining older equipment if coal is to survive as an industry.

This is not a calamity but an opportunity unprecedented in the annals of the American Industrial Revolution. The coal-based hydrocarbon processing and steelmaking communities, unlike quasi-governmental consumer and light industrial power customer bases, need more coal-based suppliers of syngas feedstock and are deploying the flexibly-sizeable, time-proven coal gasifier technology to provide it. (Please note the supplier list at the end of this article.) To add injury to insult respecting the anti-capitalist industry-smashers, exploiting this situation enables the coal industry to financially amortize partial (hybrid) natural gas and/or biomass-plus-coal conversion through EPA code compliance by CO2 monetization deployment, thereby exceeding EPA’s wildest demands of compliance.

The optimum market-flexible retrofit coal plant array would consist of a small coal gasifier as a hydrogen and syngas generator and a natural gas line (if one is not already in place for overfire burners over the coalbed combustion chambers) to stabilize chemical production conducted offsite by the subcontract CO2 monetizing chemical processor. Additionally, the mandated (conventional and proven) amine-based carbon capture unit would also be present to provide feedstock to the off-site chemical manufacturing subcontractor. Railcar tankers or barge tankers could serve as the temporary leased or rented carbon dioxide storage facilities as well as tools for direct shipping of CO2 to shale gas and oil extraction wellhead operations.

Expert help in terms of contacts in the industry are meeting in Houston on July 29–30 for the Gas-To-Liquids Forum 2014 sponsored by Gulf Publishing. This event includes providers and installers on an EPC basis of scalable coal gasifiers, CCUS units and other needed expertise to include project financing. Most of those firms shown on the list at the end of this article will be in attendance at this event.

Both the steelmaking and oil & gas exploration and development industries need between them over 40 billion tonnes per year of industrial grade CO2.

Approximately nine billion tonnes for making on-site syngas as fuel for upping carbon monoxide-fueled & electrically-powered hybrid steel induction furnaces’ efficiency & steel chemistry quality and 31 billion tonnes for extracting oil and natural gas from the ground respectively. (Refer to “Coal: Empowering Human Development” in American Coal Magazine on enhanced oil recovery using captured CO2 by Dr. Frank Clemente at

While most other industries in the U.S. are fighting just to stay in place, in terms of growth, the coal-based hydrocarbon chemical manufacturers of polymers, ethanol, methanol and nitrogen fertilizers are building new production facilities in the U.S., two of them the largest ever built in the world.

The number of research facilities working diligently to provide marketing data, market predictions and technological evaluations of new technology are legion. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratories’ coal team have done excellent work in spreadsheeting a range of options for enabling co-production of captured carbon dioxide and other monetizable surplus assets for conversion to chemicals, fertilizer and building materials.

From the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s (NETL) Carbon Utilization Team comes this report – over 10 years in the making – which describes a variety of potential future markets for captured carbon dioxide.

Given this research, it is alarming that the coal industry, in self-deceptive comfort, is waiting for a technological and work-free magic silver bullet, which will always be 10 years away from practicality so long as the research grants are there.

The work at hand can be rendered more clearly visible and billions of dollars less expensive to determine if one chooses as an executive to demand two things: 1.) No more reports from scientists but rather from only registered and licensed P. E.s and P. Eng.s with 20 years minimum in their respective fields and 2.) No more reports that lack detailed costs and timelines that do not advocate equipment procurement and/or improvement of existing facilities. There is no pie in the sky except in Three Stooges comedies and only then temporarily.

Specifically the money is running out for open-ended and non-results-yielding research and pilot projects for underground CCS. The practical reality is that there must be paying, above ground propositions which are stand-alone on a non-federally subsidized basis for converting CO2 into a component of a non-reactive and positive results-yielding end product.

Using federal taxpayer dollars to pay ad infinitum for the deployment of technologies that do not eliminate at all carbon dioxide’s presumed but presently unsubstantiated climate-related reactivity but rather only reduce (infinitesimally) the rate at which CO2 is emitted by industrial sources is a fiscal snake swallowing its own tail. It is absurd to think underground CCS can be made to happen without the U.S. federal government implementing a massive eminent domain-based land grab.


Pulling together and deploying a working strategy

As an activist for the application of the four-point Carnegie-Ford template of industrial project organization, the following is provided in that format for consideration and review as a means of taking the battle to adversaries of the coal industry, whilst making a proper and enterprise-stabilizing profit for all parties concerned.

  1. Co-location and consequent shared operational cost reductions through grouping manufacturing facilities near current coal plants.

    Those with the best intelligence respecting new and existing users of the range of products your plant can co-produce are the providers of the Dodge Report. Have them sign off on the usual non-disclosure/non-compete agreement then tell them what your coal plant is attempting to achieve. Their team provides custom services of this nature. The local Industrial Development Agency bond issuance agency can also be of great assistance in providing a punchlist of joint venture or subcontract partners.

  2. Co-production of emissions-based products marketed to co-located independent manufacturers using those products.

    The services of a local registered professional chemical engineering firm in identifying prospects based on your coal plant’s technology selection is needed to help screen prospects, develop the parameters of the joint enterprise, determine project costs for both construction and operations and obtain pertinent licensing for the undertaking.

  3. Surplus asset deployment planning of which emissions and other current assets such as adjoining coal plant-owned real estate are key parts.

    Identifying the optimum range and profitability of competing technologies for such undertakings is a chemical engineer’s job. Therefore, the above recommendation for item 2 applies as well.

  4. Localization of marketing the products and services of Carnegie-Ford template-created vertically-integrated industrial complexes after the successful model of a domestic urban Free Trade Zone or Enterprise Zone.

This requires crafting of supply logistics chains to serve requirements for new warehousing & distribution in proposed new localized industrial complexes.

The local Industrial Development Agency bond issuance authority is your best bet for wrestling with this conundrum as well plus they are already well connected with planning authorities and specialists in transportation and logistics engineers who will be needed in plotting out a successful course for the long-term prospects for the projected enterprise.

Options for retrofitting existing coal power plants to address this market opportunity include but are not limited to the following firms, which may wish to consider financing and operating the retrofitted co-producing end of things:

Hydrocarbon processing and carbon conversion (Fischer-Tropsch based) suppliers

Established and proven coal stack emissions carbon capture equipment suppliers

Stack-base coal emissions utilization experts

  • Hatch Engineering, licensors of Sasol’s Lurgi Fischer-Tropsch technology, which has positively transformed South Africa’s chemical manufacturing industry beyond all expectations –

  • Airproducts (for carbon monoxide/carbon dioxide burner gas recycling for electric-arc induction furnaces) –

  • Marsulex Environmental Technologies

  • Kellogg Brown and Root –

Providers of IT spreadsheeting, flowchart and dashboard tools for planning & deploying carbon conversion equipment procurement, financial strategies and tactics and O & M

  • Aspen Technologies at

Suppliers of DOT-111 CO2 transport-capable railcars, rail carriers and inland waterway barge carriers for CO2

Walter James O’Brien is an industrial cost analyst based in Fargo, N.D.

Photo by Frank Wasserfuehrer/Shutterstock

02. July 2014 by Jason Hayes
Categories: CO2, EPA, Power Generation, Utilities | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on CCUS Options for Coal Plant Conversion