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Coal gasification

David Roberts, Gristmill
…Having read a good bit about all this, my skepticism has not been overcome. Here are what I see as the big limitations on gasification/sequestration:

* Coal boosters say we have 250 years worth of coal in this country. But as Jeff Goodell argues persuasively in Big Coal, this number is wildly exaggerated. Much of that coal lies under inhabited or wilderness areas; the estimate is based on outdated studies; it assumes our usage won’t increase, but the whole point of “energy independence” would be to increase it substantially. In short, if we replace all oil with liquefied coal, we’d burn through the coal quickly and do immeasurable damage to our natural landscapes in the process.
* Schweitzer brushes off concern about mining, saying the surface mining in Montana is safe and landscapes are reclaimed. The truth is a bit more complicated.
* Right now, the only demand for CO2 sequestration comes from enhanced oil recovery. Do we really want to enable the recovery of tons more oil, which would bring the price of oil down and, oh yeah, get burned and release CO2?
* Who’s going to pay for all the sequestration that doesn’t help recover oil? Remember, if coal-to-liquid is to replace any substantial percentage of our oil, there’s going to have to be a lot of it, and that means a lot of sequestration. Sequestration requires a great deal of money and a particular set of geological features. How will it scale up?

One could go on. Weighing against these negatives is one overwhelming consideration:

* The hard, unavoidable fact that dozens, probably hundreds, of coal plants are going to be built around the world soon. If they are IGCC plants, we at least have a hope of sequestering the CO2. If they are conventional coal-fired power plants, all other efforts to slow the release of GHGs will be overwhelmed. Game over. Preventing the construction of these conventional coal plants should be our absolute first priority in the global warming fight. All else depends on it.
(9 July 2006)
The original article has many links to recent articles. Related: Coal has power to fuel independence.

Why coal-rich US is seeing record imports

Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor
They’ve jumped from 9 million tons to 30.5 million tons since 1999, as demand grows for low-sulfur coal.
With nearly a quarter of the world’s coal supply – enough to last centuries – the United States has been dubbed the “Saudi Arabia of Coal,” by US officials and energy experts.

But thanks to growing global coal markets and clean air regulations, the US is witnessing a latter-day equivalent of “carrying coals to Newcastle” – a 230 percent leap in coal imports to the US since 1999.

Coal-fired power plants along the Gulf Coast and East Coast have long imported coal by ship in small amounts. But with transportation costs and the price of low-sulfur coal from central Appalachia and Wyoming rising, US demand is soaring for coal from South America and as far away as Indonesia.

Leaping from 9 million tons to 30.5 million tons in the past six years, US coal imports could jump to 40 million tons this year, government analysts say. And that trend is accelerating as demand for low-sulfur coal grows following last year’s federal Clean Air Interstate Rule, a mandate for big cuts in sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants in the eastern US.

At the same time, US coal exports are declining sharply. If present trends continue, the US will be a net importer of coal by 2013, according to the Energy Information Administration of the US Department of Energy. Still, most analysts see little need to worry since vast US reserves mean the US is unlikely to become dependent on overseas coal.

“It’s truly an ironic situation with the growth in imports, but in the bigger picture, there’s no need to worry,” says Richard Bonskowski, a coal analyst at the Energy Information Administration. The US produced more than 1.1 billion tons of coal last year, he says. So the US is importing only 4 percent of US consumption.
(10 July 2006)

UK Energy Trends, Coal

Chris Vernon, The Oil Drum UK
The DTI has recently published its quarterly Energy Trends report with data up to and including the first quarter of this year (2006). The report is available for download here: Energy Trends June 2006 (pdf)

The main points for the first quarter of 2006:

  • Total energy production was 4½ per cent lower than in the first quarter of 2005.
  • Oil production fell by 8½ per cent compared to the first quarter of 2005 as production from older established fields continued to decline.
  • Gas production was 4½ per cent lower compared with the first quarter of 2005. Gas imports and exports increased by 44½ per cent and 1½ per cent respectively. These figures reflect the decline of UK gas reserves. Gas demand was 1 per cent lower than a year earlier.
  • Total primary energy consumption for energy uses increased by 3 per cent. This was 3 per cent lower when adjusted to take account of weather differences between the first quarter of 2005 and the first quarter of 2006.
  • Final energy consumption increased by 2 per cent, with a rises in all sectors: domestic sector consumption increased by 4½ per cent, industrial consumption increased by 2 per cent; consumption in the transport and service sectors were both 1 per cent higher.
  • Coal production was 8 per cent higher than a year earlier. Coal imports were 29 per cent higher and at anew record level. Generators’ demand for coal was up 17 per cent.
  • Coal supplied 18 per cent more electricity than in the same period a year earlier, while gas supplied 17 per cent less. Nuclear supplied 1 per cent less. Net imports of electricity were 31 per cent higher than a year earlier.

(10 July 2006)

Shell in Chinese liquefied coal deal

Richad McGregor, The Australian
ROYAL Dutch Shell and a Chinese partner have agreed to do a three-year study of a coal-to-liquid (CTL) fuel plant in western Ningxia province which would be one of China’s largest foreign investments.

Lim Haw Kuang, executive chairman of Shell in China, said a plant of the size envisaged would cost $US5-6 billion ($6.6-7.9 billion) to build, although Shell said this was only a preliminary estimate.

The Shell joint venture is part of an investment surge into CTL plants in China, driven by a combination of the country’s abundant coal, rising energy demand and record oil prices.

Just under 30 such projects are in the detailed planning or feasibility stage, according to a report by Credit Suisse, with a projected output equivalent to 10 per cent of the country’s present oil demand.

The costly, capital-intensive CTL plants are generally considered to be financially viable when oil prices are above $US35-40 a barrel, which the industry thinks is a good bet.

China has another 30 coal-to-methanol plants under construction or going through the approval process.
(13 July 2006)