The "Powerfuel" company that owns Hatfield Colliery in Yorkshire has entered administration due to lack of investment. The intention was to improve the mine and develop a "clean coal" power plant based on the integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) principle, with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. In IGCC, the coal is not burned directly as it is in normal coal-fired power plants, but is converted into synthesis gas. Impurities are removed from the gas before it is burned, which results in lower emissions of sulfur dioxide, particulates and mercury.
IGCC is more energy-efficient than simply burning pulverized coal, and the efficiency is further improved since heat from the primary combustion and generation is then passed to a steam-cycle, similar to a combined cycle gas-turbine. In the Hatfield situation, the final CO2 was intended to be removed by a CCS unit and pumped into "old" gas-wells under the North Sea.
This was an entirely innovative project, and Powerfuel is the only company with a license to put the technology to the test in the UK. The technology is not cheap and some Â£164 million worth of funding was secured from the European Union last year, to build the CCS plant. Even so, the rest of the Â£800 million needed to build the power station could not be secured, although the administrators, KPMG say they are hopeful to find a buyer, even in the present economic climate.
The project was to be at the forefront of the European Union's drive to provide low-carbon electricity, and this outcome is not optimistic that private industry can be relied upon to provide funding to meet governmental carbon emissions targets. There are still considerable reserves of coal in the world, although it was recently predicted that only about half the amount previously thought can be recovered economically. There is the further issue of the quality of coal, since the majority of the world reserve is of lower thermal quality than the top-grade anthracitic coal, and will yield less energy per tonne either burned directly or in the form of syngas in ICGC plants.
It is likely that more conventional (cheaper and proven technology) coal-fired plants will be built to keep the lights on around the world. While speculation still reigns in some quarters over the reality of a connection between carbon emissions and climate change, there is no doubt that running short of energy would be the most immediately catastrophic event for civilization.
By. Professor Chris Rhodes
Professor Chris Rhodes is a writer and researcher. He studied chemistry at Sussex University, earning both a B.Sc and a Doctoral degree (D.Phil.); rising to become the youngest professor of physical chemistry in the U.K. at the age of 34.
A prolific author, Chris has published more than 400 research and popular science articles (some in national newspapers: The Independent and The Daily Telegraph)
He has recently published his first novel, "University Shambles" was published in April 2009 (Melrose Books). http://universityshambles.com