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Photo Friday: Coal gasification

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Last summer at the Rocky Mountain Test Facility in Wyoming, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientists tested the practical potential of large-scale coal gasification facilities in a series of field experiments. This technology is considered a promising component of future “clean coal” power plants with their ability to capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions.

Photo Credit – U.S. Department of Energy, taken August 6, 2013.

Melissa C. Lott About the Author: An engineer and researcher who works at the intersection of energy, environment, technology, and policy. Follow on Twitter @mclott.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Spironis 10:43 am 01/31/2014

    Thermodynamics. Power generated by fossil fuel combustion followed by carbon sequestration must cede at least 30% of output to capture. Enviro-whinerism need not outlaw civilization, it need only make it too expensive to run.

    We will then all live in the Shire where times are forever happy and nobody need dig a latrine.

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  2. 2. oldfarmermac 3:50 pm 01/31/2014

    It is highly unlikely that coal gasification can be accomplished at a cost in dollars at a price low enough for it to be adopted on the grand scale. Old Man Business AS Usual is on his last legs and won’t last long enough.

    Then there is the energy cost to be considered as well.

    I doubt that any truly good estimates are available but the ones I have seen indicate that about one third of the energy of every ton burnt will be needed to run the gasification plant. A relative handful of the plants- if they are built- will be able to sell the sequestered co2 to oil field operators but the rest of them will have to bear the entire cost of injecting it into some sort of deep reservoir and that is going to cost quite a bit in both energy and cash.

    My personal opinion is that the research should go forward any way in hope of the process proving to be cheap enough to implement it on the grand scale.We might get lucky, but my guess is that there aren’t going to be many gasification plants built.

    Coal to liquids might be a different matter because the benefits are immediate and in the form of cash money in hand when the liquid fuels are sold rather than in the form of a cleaner atmosphere.

    Of course the atmosphere is more critical in the long run but survival occurs in the short run and most of the world is already having serious trouble making ends meet.

    I believe our efforts should be focused mainly on improving energy efficiency across the board and scaling up renewable energy mostly in the form of wind and solar power.

    It seems likely that a billion dollars spent subsidizing these industries that are going to be getting cheaper as they continue to scale up will get us more bang for our bucks than burying co2 at enormous expense.

    Every ten megawatts of wind and solar that gets built represents a big coal fired plant that can be shut down for good or at the least put on a backup basis and run only a few days in a typical summer or winter month when demand is high and renewable output is low due to unfavorable weather.

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