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Coal to Chemicals: Can Coal be a Suitable Replacement for Crude Oil?

Peak oil apostles claim that as oil resources dry up, the ability to maintain agriculture, plastics, and petrochemicals industries will be destroyed. But the human mind can find ways of substituting cheap and abundant resources in place of resources which may grow scarce and expensive (even if only temporarily).

Olefins, also called alkenes, are unsaturated organic compounds that contain at least one carbon-to-carbon double bond. They can be used in many reactions which occur by opening up the double bond.

Olefins are used as building block chemicals for making other petrochemicals and polymers. The commercially most important olefins are ethylene, propylene and butadiene. Other olefins used in the production of petrochemicals and polymers include butene, isobutene (or isobutylene), hexene and octene. _ICIS

Coal can be a clean and vital part of Earth's energy and resource future -- if we can keep fanatical die-off green lefty-Luddites from shutting down the crucial asset. Coal to gas and coal to liquids technology are well known, but coal to chemicals technology is just beginning to take off.

The gasification unit at one of the world’s largest coal-to-olefins projects successfully started up at the China Shenhua Coal to Liquid and Chemical Co. Ltd.’s project in Baotou, Inner Mongolia (Shenhua Baotou Coal to Olefins project). The gasification unit uses advanced coal gasification technology provided by GE (NYSE:GE).

The gasification technology converts coal into a synthesis gas (or syngas). Syngas can then be used to produce methanol, which will be transformed into olefins, a building block for producing polyethylene and polypropylene. At full production—scheduled for fourth quarter of 2010—the Shenhua Baotou Coal to Olefins project will produce nearly 1.8 million tons of methanol for approximately 600,000 tons of polyethylene and polypropylene per year.

With five gasifiers and two spare units, the Shenhua Baotou Coal to Olefins project is one of the largest coal to olefins plants in the world. The plant underscores the importance that the Chinese government is placing on using the country’s large coal reserves to reduce its heavy dependence on imported olefins (polyethylene and polypropylene-based plastics) and drive further economic growth.

“The size and scope of this project is possible because of strong government interest in the development of larger coal-to-olefins plants,” said Jason Crew, director of gasification products—Asia for GE Power & Water. “The Shenhua Baotou Coal to Olefins project is one of three large-scale, coal-to-olefins demonstration projects funded by the Chinese government and is the first one to start up. We are proud that GE gasification technology is part of this successful industrial scale project.”

Gasification technology is critical for the expansion of the Chinese economy, allowing a wide variety of industrial products and fuels to be created from low-cost and abundant coal resources. GE’s gasification technology is one of the most widely applied technologies of its kind in China, with more than 40 licensed facilities. As gasification projects in China get larger and more complex, advanced technologies such as GE’s larger scale quench gasifier and higher pressure gasification technology will have a significant role in reducing overall project cost. _Manufacturing

By. Al Fin

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Leave a comment
  • Anonymous on August 18 2010 said:
    It might be useful to think about the the future availability of chemicals/ petrochemicals, which means that this article is valuable. Unfortunately, we cannot ignore the energy in coal.
  • Alex Kovnat on January 19 2012 said:
    The problem with coal-to-various chemicals is, it aggravates the problem of carbon dioxide buildup in our planet's atmosphere.

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