Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Can a Big, Relatively Clean Coal-Fired Power Plant Make Money and Revolutionize the Industry?

Kemper plant - Future of the coal industry? The ambitious and expensive carbon capture and sequestration power plant in Kemper County, Miss. (Credit: Mississippi Power) Click to enlarge.
Dekalb, Miss.: The Kemper County Energy Facility -- which envisions grabbing 65 percent of the CO2 from a 582-megawatt gasification power plant here -- is nearing completion, with hundreds of construction workers on-site.  It has enough piping to stretch across much of the state, constructed conveyer belts as tall as buildings and an operating coal mine, where massive trucks ferry unearthed lignite coal to a storage dome.

In a tour last week officials from Southern Co. and its subsidiary Mississippi Power, the developers of the $5.5 billion plant, said they are on track for a May 31, 2015, operation date and plan to begin capturing CO2 at the gasification plant this fall.  The first fire of the gasifier is expected later this summer.

"The combustion turbines are already up and running and checked out on natural gas.  The next step is to get them operating on syngas [made from coal]," explained John Huggins, vice president of generation development at Mississippi Power.

Like fossil fuel development or not, the Kemper plant is at the center of U.S. EPA's plans to regulate carbon dioxide from new power plants and at the center of global emissions, considering that "low-rank" coals like Mississippi lignite constitute half the world's coal supply.

Southern has said publicly that its new Transport Integrated Gasification (TRIG) technology being installed at Kemper -- which gasifies lignite coal into synthesis gas, or syngas -- could be useful for other countries like China with similar "low-rank" coals, a lighter, higher-moisture type of the fuel.

When operational with CO2 capture, the coal plant will have an emissions profile similar to that of natural gas, a first in power generation.  The only other CCS coal plant with capture near Kemper's construction status is SaskPower's Boundary Dam in Canada.  In releasing its draft rule in 2013 on carbon emissions from new power plants, EPA cited Kemper, along with three other proposed plants, as an example of the viability of CO2 capture technology.

Can a Big, Relatively Clean Coal-Fired Power Plant Make Money and Revolutionize the Industry?

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