Characterisation of the field
The scope of the coal conversion research topic covers science and engineering activities focused on coking and briquetting applications, the development of underground coal gasification for non-direct power and industrial applications, and various options for coal to synfuels and chemicals.
For basic and applied strategic research, the range of disciplinary inputs includes chemistry, physics, metallurgy and materials science, environmental sciences, mechanical, combustion and chemical engineering, geology and the built environment. Increasingly, a range of disciplines from the social sciences and economics are providing some input into coal related issues. These include assessments of public awareness and attitudes to the use of coal within a sustainable energy mix and the growing use of economic drivers to ensure ever better environmental compliance by coal end users.
Coal conversion research includes coal characterisation, the efficiency of conversion and environmental performance, components development and systems integration. The more basic research comprises the characterisation studies, including the development of innovative analytical and modelling techniques. The applied research programmes are usually designed to provide practical solutions for improvement of the energy efficiency, environmental and economic performance of the various technologies and techniques. Suchapplied research will often incorporate some basic studies but as means to an end rather than an end in itself.
Globally, there is a growing concern about fuel diversity and security of supply, particularly with regard to oil and natural gas. For the UK, supplies are very dependent on imports, prices are uncertain, while some suppliers show a willingness to use their oil and gas to influence political decisions. Global demand for oil has been increasing significantly due to the economic development of China and India while oil exploration has failed to keep up with production. Consequently, the use of coal, which is available from a much wider range of sources and has greater price stability than oil and gas, is increasingly attractive. On a global basis, coal use is increasing rapidly, and by 2030 may well reach a level of more than 4,500 Mtoe, corresponding to close to a doubling of current levels. The main market will be in thedeveloping countries, especially China and India, while OECD use will decline. While most of the coal will be used directly in the power generation sector (see the coal combustion landscape), there will still be a significant amount used for coal conversion applications. These include coking, which is commercially proven, underground coal gasification, with a number of large scale trials underway, together with a growing interest in coal to liquids and coal to chemicals schemes, with thedeployment of these technologies now at the large scale demonstration stage.
The key coal conversion research challenges are to develop and deploy methods by which coal can be used cleanly, efficiently, and in a sustainable way. In particular, with increasing industrialisation in many developing countries, the need for steel has resulted in a significant increase in the use of coal in the iron and steel sector, which is currently the next largest coal-using sector after the power sector. The R&D needs in the metallurgical industry mirror to a degree those in the power generation sector. Thus there is a need to improve the overall performance and cost effectiveness of existing units while also seeking ways to advance the technology to ensure future environmental compliance, including minimising CO2 emissions. In broad terms there is a need both to improve the operational flexibility and availability, while reducing energy use through higher efficiencies and also ensuring improved emissions control. The R&D drivers continue to be:
With regard to CO2 and other greenhouse gases, as well as the benefits arising from increased process efficiency, there is the Ultra Low CO2 Steel-making (ULCOS) initiative. This seeks to significantly reduce CO2 emissions and is part of the International Iron & Steel Institute Global CO2 Breakthrough Programme.
Underground coal gasification (UCG) is the in-situ gasification of coal in the seam, which is achieved by injecting oxidants, gasifying the coal and removing the product gas through boreholes drilled from the surface. The gas, a combination of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, and carbon dioxide can be processed to remove the most of the carbon as CO2 before it is passed on to end users, thereby providing a source of clean energy with low greenhouse gas emissions. The potential for UCG includes maintaining an acceptable level of security and diversity of energy supply while also reducing emissions of environmental concern. There have been several studies to consider the possible role of UCG as part of a carbon abatement technology strategy. The idea would be to use UCG in combination with carbon capture and storage (CCS) since there is scope to inject CO2 into adjacent coal seams, which offers the prospect of enhanced coal bed methane (CBM) production alongside CO2 storage. There is also the option of storing large volumes of dense-phase CO2 in the voids that would be created by gasifying coal at depths in excess of 800 metres.
There have been several major international large-scale trials undertaken, from which the basic feasibility of UCG has been proven. In particular, the use of highly accurate directional drilling technologies, which can achieve extended reach wells penetrating more than 20 km laterally at depths of over 400 meters, has helped reduce the cost of recovery. With such control, around 80 ofthe original energy content of the solid coal can be recovered from a production borehole as syngas. This can be used either as a fuel for power generation and industrial heating or as a raw material for conversion into hydrogen, liquid fuels, synthetic natural gas and other chemicals.
Further detailed studies are required to prove the technology of precision drilling process control at greater depths, to fully evaluate any possible environmental impact on underground aquifers and adjacent strata, and to establish the economics of commercial scale operations. Such work is now getting underway, with considerable emphasis in the UK while in Australia, there are plans being implemented to test UCG with coal liquefaction as a possible means to improve the attractiveness of both technologies. At the same time, there is a growing interest in the extraction of shale gas and it remains to be seen what the market impact on UCG will be since in both cases the productioncosts have yet to be determined.
For coal liquefaction, there are two technology variants. Direct liquefaction converts coal to a liquid by dissolving it in a solvent at high temperature and pressure. The liquid is then hydro-cracked to provide a range of high-grade liquids that can either be used directly or upgraded further to produce transport fuel quality products. With indirect liquefaction, the coal is first gasified to form a synthetic gas mixture, which can then be adjusted to give the required balance of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This mixture is cleaned of sulphur and then reacted over a catalyst to produce various high-grade products. These include transport fuel substitutes and chemicals. For both processes, the challenges are essentially the same, to achieve high efficiencies of conversion while ensuring that the economics of the processes are such that the technologies can be established on a commercially sustainable basis. This will then offer aviable alternative to petroleum based oil products, while offering a defensive means to reducing exposure to oil price volatility.
At present, a series of large scale demonstration projects are either operational or at the planning stage in China, Australia, Indonesia and the USA. In South Africa, there are plans to significantly expand its commercial scale indirect coal liquefaction process production. In all cases, there is a need to ensure very high standards of environmentalperformance, while establishing a small carbon footprint. That said, the liquefaction technologies readily lend themselves to the application of CCS techniques.
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Table 2.1: UK Capabilities
For coal conversion activities within the UK, coal use in the metallurgical sector remains the second largest after power generation and there continues to be a significant industrial presence through Tata Steel Europe (formerly Corus) and SSI UK, a 100 -owned UK-based subsidiary of Sahaviriya Steel Industries Public Company Limited, which is the recent new owner of Teesside Cast Products following its acquisition from Tata Steel. Tata Steel Europe, together with a select group of UK universities that retain appropriate high quality research expertise, continues to address the ongoing significant R&D challenges. However, within the UK and elsewhere in Europe, there is continued pressure from potentially lower cost imports of coking coals from several countries. As such, it is doubtful whether there is a significant global market potential arising from these UK R&D activities.
In contrast, there is a significant and increasing focus on UCG, reflecting both the need for diversification of the UK energy mix and the fact that this approach could provide access to the large-scale UK coal resources inaccessible by conventional mining, including the substantial resources under the southern North Sea. In 2009 and 2010, the UK Coal Authority received applications for, and granted, some 14 conditional near offshore UCG licences to companies interested in developing the technology further in Great Britain. These conditional licences enable prospective operators to secure the rights to the coal while projects are developed but do not permit UCG operations to commence until all other rights and permissions are in place, including financial closure. The areas include Swansea Bay, the Humber Estuary and the Firth of Forth. Currently, these various projects are at the preparation stage.
There any major global market opportunities for UCG demonstration and deployment in many coal producing countries. Several UK companies, while active on the development of the UK prospects, are also advising on and developing schemes for technology exploitation overseas in countries such as Indonesia, China, India and Vietnam. Other countries and regions where the technology is of interest include Australia and Eastern Europe. Several universities have built up expertise relevant to UCG and opportunities to utilise their skills are increasing, in part through funding being available via the European Commission.
Forcoal liquefaction, previously, the British Coal Corporation (BCC) led the UK R&D activities culminating in a successful technical demonstration of their direct process scheme. However, at the time of the privatisation of the UK coal industry, this work ceased when the BCC coal research facilities were closed. Several UK universities maintain some levels of R&D expertise but there have been few opportunities to develop and utilise such skills, as this has not been a recent priority topic for UK R&D funding, while opportunities for EU financial support have been limited. This reflected the lack of economic drivers for the technology due to the very high capital investment required and the potential volatility of international oil prices. However, that global situation is changing and coal liquefaction is seen as potentially strategically important to certain countries, such as China, Australia and the USA. However, the UK capability to now contribute to this particular development is extremely limited.
Table 2.1: UK Capabilities
Table 3.1: Research Funding | Table 3.2: Key Research Providers
Table 3.1: Research Funding
Table 3.2: Key Research Providers
Table 4.1: Research Funding Table 4.2: Key Research Providers
There is a limited number of organisations that undertake applied coal conversion research and development in the UK. These include two major industrial companies, one of which, Tata Steel Europe, provides technical support to its metallurgical business and the other, CPL Industries Limited, which undertakes some work to support its position in the UK coal products market.
Tata Steel Europe (formerly Corus, which had been formed through the merger of British Steel and Koninklijke Hoogovens) is an international company that provides steel products and services to customers worldwide. In the context of coal conversion, its R&D focus is primarily short-term with the emphasis on reducing emissions from coke ovens, improving coke quality and the efficiency of coke making, maximising the impact of direct coal injection into furnaces as a way of reducing costs and improving efficiency.
CPL Industries’ activities include the supply and distributionof coke, smokeless fuels and other products such as central heating oil, diesel, petrol, lubricants, marine fuels and gas oil to the UK domestic market. Its coal based R&D includes work to optimise the production of smokeless fuels for domestic and industrial applications, using by products of carbonisation such as anthracene oil and coal tar pitches. These form the basis of products such as activated carbons, binders and materials for the construction industry.
Table 4.1: Research Funding
Table 4.2: Key Research Providers
Table 6.1: Research Facilities and Assets
Gastec at CRE offers independent R&D/testing/certification facilities for small-scale coal-conversion applications, namely smokeless fuels for the domestic sector. For larger scale industrial applications, there continue to be some large-scale test facilities available, but only via two industrial organisations, as set out in the table below.
Table 6.1: Research Facilities and Assets
Table 7.1: Networks
There is one network relevant to coal conversion R&D in the UK. The Coal Research Forum acts to promote informal networking with the benefit of developing collaborative relationships between members having similar interests.
Table 7.1: Networks
Table 8.1: EU Framework Programmes
The EU 7th Framework Programme (FP7) does not support work on coal conversion as such although there is some scope for projects to reduce CO2 emissions from such processes, e.g. coking. This leaves the Research Fund for Coal and Steel (RFCS), which is administered by the European Commission. This funds projects on coal conversion, which can include research and demonstration projects, accompanying measures, as well as support and preparatory actions. The number of new projects supported each year varies and depends on the total budget available as well as on the budget claimed by each individual project. Thus if a high cost project is rated highly and is funded, its inclusion means that the level of funding for additional projects is reduced.
Projects that involve UK organisations and either remain active or will commence in early 2013 are listed below. In each case, contracts have been signed with the Commission to implement the R&D programmeand information is in the public domain.
Table 8.1: EU Framework Programmes
Table 9.1: International Activities
The IEA Clean Coal Centre has produced a significant number of technical and economic assessments on coking, coal liquefaction and underground coal gasification. In addition, the IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme undertakes assessment activities of relevance to the above-mentioned technologies.
Table 9.1: International Activities