Coal gasification on the rise

COAL gasification is on the rise despite moves in the US to stamp it out, the Gasification Technologies Council has reported.
Coal gasification on the rise Coal gasification on the rise Coal gasification on the rise Coal gasification on the rise Coal gasification on the rise

Solid Energy's Huntly underground coal gasification Plant in the Waikato.

Anthony Barich

“Coal-based gasification – and coal gasification for chemicals – is dominant in Asia and will likely continue to be so for the foreseeable future,” GTC executive director Alison Kerester said in a piece published in the World Coal Association’s blog last week.

Even so, Australian Coal Association low emission technology CEO and Minerals Council of Australia coal executive director Greg Evans warned that policies and investment must continue to support not only clean coal technologies but efficient power generation technologies to ensure coal’s place in the global energy mix was maintained.

“There will be increasing demand for coal, especially with the requirements for energy in Asia, continuing urbanisation and industrialisation, so the demand fundamentals for coal are strong,” Evans told International Coal News.

“However, to augment the contribution of coal, we need to invest in things like carbon capture and storage and continued investment in high-efficiency, low-emission technologies – such as much more efficient generating technologies – which is something that’s occurring now with the uptake of ultra-supercritical coal-fired power stations, particularly in Japan and China.

“They’re much more efficient and produce more energy for the amount of coal required.”

While China announced import tariffs of 3% for anthracite coal and coking coal and a 6% import tariff on non-coking coal last week, Evans said coal was positioning itself as part of the solution in terms of reducing overall emissions.

“Coal has the opportunity of producing the lowest cost, most reliable energy source, especially in developing countries and will continue to be around for a very long period,” he said.

“There will be increasing demand for coal, especially with the requirements for energy in Asia, continuing urbanisation and industrialisation, so the demand fundamentals for coal are strong.”

Kerester said the gasification market had evolved substantially over the past five years, despite coal gasification for power generation declining significantly in the US, although there had been a growing interest in waste-to-energy gasification in North America.

The abundance of cheap natural gas has been a game-changer in the US, making coal gasification less competitive.

US environmental regulations have also limited the number of new coal-based gasification projects being planned, while those that are proceeding have been reconfigured to capture carbon dioxide and/or to produce multiple product streams – generally, power generation and/or urea for fertiliser production and CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, as is the case with the Texas clean energy project.

The decline in North American coal gasification appears to be forecast to be offset, however, by Asia.

“There is a growing market for petroleum coke gasification in Asia, as Asian refineries strive to remain competitive in the Asian market,” Kerester said.

“High natural gas and LNG prices in Asia, the growing demand for energy and products in the developing world and the need for energy security will all continue to drive the demand for coal and petroleum coke gasification.

“These new plants are moving the deployment of gasification forward in a way that may not have seemed possible just 10 years ago.

“The tremendous amount of research, development and demonstration occurring glob¬ally promises that tomorrow’s technologies will be more advanced, less expensive, and more flexible than those in the market today.

“New experience, technical advancements and the potential to integrate gasification with CO2 capture, combined with greater needs for energy security, may mean the coming years will fully unlock the potential for gasification that we’ve known has existed for decades.”

Kerester said the current growth of coal as a gasification feedstock was largely a result of new Chinese coal-to-chemicals plants.

“Unquestionably, Asia is experiencing the strongest growth in coal and petroleum coke gasification, with China leading the way,” she said.

“There are now a number of Chinese gasification technology companies that did not exist a decade ago.

“The high price of natural gas and LNG, coupled with LNG import restrictions in some countries in Asia – primarily China, India, Mongolia and South Korea – are prompting those coun¬tries to utilise their domestic coal and petroleum coke to produce the chemicals, fertilisers, fuels and power needed for their economies.”


With few exceptions, Kerester said coal and petroleum coke gasification plants were becoming larger in scale to produce enough products to meet market demand and to drive down the product price, yet the number of gasifiers per project was increasing.

“The increasing size of projects is resulting in the scale-up of the supporting equipment, such as the air separation units,” she said.

Kerester listed India’s Reliance Jamnagar refinery (2016 start-up), Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco Jazen refinery (2017 completion), Shell’s Pearl facility in Qatar and England’s Tees Valley (2016 start-up) as some of the larger gasification projects under construction or in operation.

Regulatory uncertainty in places like India and the heavy price tag on these projects remains a challenge, as does the heavy price tag and some governments’ restrictions demanding that all technologies be domestically derived.

“The upfront costs associated with large-scale gasification projects remain a hurdle today,” Kerester said.

“Although alternatives to the capital-intensive projects exist, they are unlikely to become a suitable replacement for large gasification projects that offer a lower-cost end product and produce the large quantities of products necessary to meet market demand, such as the chemicals and fertiliser sectors.

“Bringing down capital costs or finding ways to obtain the required investment will remain a challenge.”

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