Greener Gasification

Industrial chemical manufacturers will be happy to know that a major venture is underway to produce cheap natural gas alternatives. In September, 2007 Synthesis Energy Systems, Inc.(SES), a company that builds and operates gasification plants, teamed up with the largest producer of bituminous coal in the U.S; CONSOL Energy. As stated in their first news release, the companies joined forces to “investigate the development of coal-based gasification facilities to produce feedstock for various industrial chemical manufacturers whose plants have been shut down due to high costs of natural gas.”

How clean will coal get?
(Photo: Synthesis Energy Systems)

“Under the agreement, SES and CONSOL Energy will perform engineering, environmental and marketing activities to analyze the feasibility of projects that would use coal gasification technology to convert coal from preparation plant tailings provided by CONSOL Energy’s coal mining complexes located in the eastern United States into higher-value products including: methanol, ethanol, mixed alcohols, ammonia and SNG.”

SES uses their patented “U-Gas” technology to covert low-rank waste coal to synthesis gas, or syngas. Syngas is a carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen mixture that is created by heating a carbon fuel and turning it into a gas. Syngas has half the energy density of natural gas, however, the low-rank coal used to produce syngas would typically end up in a landfill if not converted into this feedstock. High ash and high moisture coals are also used rather than the more expensive coals. Another benefit is that gasification occurs without many of the harmful emissions typically associated with the process.

Creating this technology wasn’t the easiest undertaking: The Gas Technology Institute spent three decades perfecting the process. It was well worth it, though. For example, the “U-Gas” technology will be used to convert some of the massive 20 million tons of waste coal produced by CONSOL per year into alternative fuels.

Tim Vail, President and CEO of SES goes on to state in an earlier 2008 press release that “Reaching the milestones necessary to proceed with this project marks SES’ entry into the United States gasification market, and we are proud to be working with CONSOL to jointly be the first domestic gasification provider serving the industrial consumer segment. Our U-GAS technology will not only economically and cleanly produce high-value chemical feedstocks and traditional fuels from CONSOL’s raw and waste coal feedstocks, but also reduce the region’s dependence on imported industrial chemical feedstocks and other petroleum-based fuels. We have made significant progress in just eight short months and are excited to move forward with the next steps of this project.”

SES operates primarily in Virginia and China, but is still expanding. In fact, SES was approved for expansion of their Hai Hua project in China this month which will increase production of syngas to 45,000 cubic meters per hour in the facility. All of SES’s current projects can be viewed here.

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