Thursday, 3 July 2008

New not-so-clean-coal build for Victoria.

Just two days before the Garnaut report on climate change is handed down, the Victorian Government has given the go-ahead to a new brown-coal power station in Latrobe Valley.

Environmental campaigners said it was "complete madness" to approve the $750 million plant, but the Government said the station would use new technology that would slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The project is a joint venture between consortium HRL and Chinese power giant Harbin Power, and will receive funding of $100 million from the Federal Government and $50 million from the Victorian Government.

"The $750 million HRL plant will use technology which has been developed right here in Victoria and is part of the new generation of clean coal power stations designed to slash greenhouse gas emissions," said the Energy Minister, Peter Batchelor.

"The project uses a process called integrated drying gasification combined cycle (IDGCC) which can reduce emissions of CO2 from brown coal-fired power generation by 30 per cent and reduce water consumption by 50 per cent, compared to current best practice for brown coal power generation in the Latrobe Valley."

Robert over at Larvatus Prodeo actually reported on this at length last year, when the project was first announced, and there's a good body of details of the project and discussion to refer to there.

Typical generators burning Victorian brown coal generate about 1175 g CO2e per kWh of electricity generated.

The IDGCC plant will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30% - so, that's about 823 g CO2e/kWh.

For a good supercritical black coal burning plant you've got about 863 gCO2e, and 751 g for natural gas, or 577 g for combined cycle natural gas - which is about the absolute lowest you'll get for a fossil fuel.

The carbon dioxide emissions are still high as all hell. It's basically the same as a black coal fired power plant - in absolutely no way is it low in greenhouse gas emissions. All that the IDGCC technology is really accomplishing is to turn a plant powered by brown coal - the most especially inefficient and carbon dioxide intensive form of coal - into the emissions equivalent of a more conventional black coal fired plant. Make no mistake - the entirety of that dangerous fossil fuel waste is being discharged straight into the environment, as per business as usual.

But there's one aspect to this which I find interesting, in particular.

This plant is slated to cost 750 million (Australian) dollars, and will have a nameplate capacity of 400 MW.
That is; $1875 per kilowatt of nameplate capacity.

The US nuclear energy industry is aiming to build new nuclear power plants for a cost of $1500 to $2000 per kW capacity.

The General Electric ABWR was the first third generation power plant approved. The first two ABWR's were commissioned in Japan in 1996 and 1997. These took just over 3 years to construct and were completed on budget. Their construction costs were around $2000 per KW.

Westinghouse claims that the AP1000 power reactor will cost $1400 per KW for the first reactor and fall to as low as $1000 per KW for subsequent reactors.

I don't know what kind of capacity factor is to be expected from an IDGCC plant - but at best, it's comparable to that of nuclear power. If the capacity factor is significantly less, then this decreases the economic competitiveness of the coal plant relative to nuclear power still further.

We're looking at the construction of a coal-fired power station that is not mitigating its carbon dioxide emissions in any meaningful way, emitting about 823 g CO2e/kWh straight into the atmosphere, along with all kinds of other dangerous coal byproducts, where the construction of a new nuclear power plant is already likely to be directly competitive, if not superior, on construction cost terms, even in the absence of any kind of emissions trading scheme, carbon dioxide 'price', carbon dioxide capture and storage or carbon dioxide sequestration.

What's up with that?


  1. Has anyone thought of combining large scale thermal solar using the existing boilers of the coal power stations? Is there any reason this couldn't be done?
    What if it was possible for the thermal solar to preheat the water to 90% and then the super hot coal fire heat to superheat the water for the turbines.
    You could make use of a lot of existing infrastructure.
    The more solar power is used, the more the company would get carbon credit. Dont underestimate the raw power of thermal solar.. look at the focal point in this picture..
    Gigawatts of energy are now being produced by solar power sites. I originally came from gippsland. Perhaps we could make an amazing transition here.
    The boilermakers could keep there jobs and other tradies could make a move into the new technologies.
    Those are big turbines down there.. why let it all go to waste.

  2. It's not a bad idea, but it may be a complicated and expensive one.

    Water is normally preheated within most [if not all] thermal power systems [coal, nuclear, etc.]. This is typically done by diverting steam from different stages of the turbine to condensate and feedwater heaters.

    To introduce a parallel preheat system would add cost and well as complexity due to extra piping and valving as well as the solar thermal system itself.

    Additional complexity would be due to the need the maintain the heated water at a near constant [steady-state] temperature during operation. Yes, one could valve the normal preheat system into service as the sun sets [a predictable event] but what about when a heavy cloud passes overhead? This may be automated, but again it would add expense and if the process ever failed to respond, a plant trip could result - and those can be expensive due to revenue loss.

    Keep thinking though - the world needs creativity right now. The general idea of looking for opportunities to use a STP turbine around the clock is worthy of more thought. Any idle no/low carbon turbine is a missed opportunity.

  3. The question people should be asking is why is the federal government adding fuel to the fire? Building new coal-fired power stations IS complete madness when we should instead be looking at phasing out the ones that are running. A recent Grenpeace report shows that we can phase coal out entirely by 2030, but it requires government investment in renewables, not new coal plants.

    Neither so-called 'clean coal' or nuclear power are options that will be ready in time to reduce our carbon emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change. Why can't the government back the solutions which are ready to roll out now?

    Check out:

  4. Thanks for your comment. I agree - it seems insane for any government to be investing in new coal.

    I do not agree with claims that nuclear will take too long. It may take a while to get the first plants on line in individual countries. But look at what was achieved in 1980's. After the industrial infrastructure is there, plants can be brought into service at a rate of 20 to 30+ per year. It's reasonable to have confidence that even that 20 year old rate could be easily beaten with modern design and manufacturing techniques.

    Recent announcements in South Korea, China and France regarding such infrastructure give me further confidence.

    Finally, I agree that renewables have an increasing role to play. But looking at the considerable efforts of other countries - most notably Germany and Denmark. It is obvious that relying on them without nuclear will result in very little emission reductions. The Greenpeace report may be 'technically' accurate, but the costs of rolling out so much renewable technology as well as the risk of power outages due to their intermittent nature [solar; wind]; would be too much for Australia to swallow. Other countries blessed with huge hydro resources, do not have to bear these risks.

    Australia could make significant gains with nuclear power in the mix.

  5. " Typical generators burning Victorian brown coal generate about 1175 g CO2e per kWh of electricity generated...for a good supercritical black coal burning plant you've got about 863 gCO2..."

    Just curious, what about thermal efficiencies of a "typical" generator vs supercritical one (with brown and black coal, for example)?

  6. Thermal efficiencies have been graciously provided by our friends at the Australian Coal Association.

    On the linked page the ACA reports an average of 38 per cent for modern pulverised fuel power plants and advanced modern plants using specially developed alloy steels which enable the use of supercritical and ultra supercritical steam to achieve efficiencies of 45 per cent and above. Further material advances could see efficiencies of up to 55% in the coming years.

    These numbers apply to any supercritical thermal process - even nuclear.

  7. "...which enable the use of supercritical and ultra supercritical steam to achieve efficiencies of 45 per cent and above..."

    Yes, but these are efficiences values at peak conditions. I suspect that "real" efficiences (i.e. electric kWh generated to heating value of fuels ratio) are a little lower and the CO2 emissions higher as a result

  8. I've only worked at nuclear power stations. You'll have to ask someone else for more specific information.

    I can tell you that the values published on efficiencies for nuclear are, by and large, accurate. Even these vary over the seasons due to fluxuations in the temperature of their heat sink, etc. but up to several percent.

    One word of caution: beware getting too technical. I doubt you want to start measuring with a micrometer and then cut with an axe, if you follow my meaning.