Wyoming research effort could help fuel West
July 3, 2009
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A public-private effort to research cleaner ways of using Wyoming coal could be key in addressing the growing energy needs of the West, a coal gasification industry official said.
Wyoming is teaming up with General Electric Co. to build a $100 million coal gasification research plant in Cheyenne. The plant is scheduled to be operating in late 2012.
“What it means is it will open up a very large coal resource in a growing area of the country to gasify coal to produce not just electricity but motor fuels, fertilizer, substitute natural gas,” said Jim Childress, executive director of Gasification Technologies Council, based in Arlington, Va.
Wyoming is the nation’s leading producer of coal, most of which is shipped around the country to fuel electric generating plants. However, the concern over global warming has spurred a movement to reduce reliance on coal because of the carbon dioxide emitted when coal is burned.
The goal of the new research plant, which will be owned by Wyoming and operated by GE, is to find efficient and cost-effective ways of turning Wyoming coal into a synthetic gas that can then be processed into various clean fuels and products.
“It’s going to help us drive costs down, performance up, emissions in the direction that we need them to go,” GE Energy General Manager Monte Atwell said. “So it’s a big deal.”
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It’s a big deal for Wyoming because coal is a key part of its economy. And it’s a big deal for the West because of growing cities and the growing desire for electricity from cleaner fuel sources.
“You got the growth in the West as far as population and economic activity, so it’s natural to want to be able to locate gasification plants by the resource,” Childress said.
There are 19 other gasification plants around the country, but none use Wyoming coal on a commercial scale.
Childress said Wyoming coal naturally contains more water than coals found elsewhere in the country and requires research into the best ways to gasify it efficiently.
“If I had to make a guess, GE sees this as an opportunity to get a leg up in a region which has a resource that’s not optimally set up for gasifying because of moisture content,” he said.
Atwell said the facility will also test different technologies in capturing CO2.
The gasification process lends itself to capturing CO2 more easily than in a conventional coal burning plant, he said.