While the outlook for IGCC, even in conjunction with CCS (carbon capture and storage), has deteriorated somewhat since the euphoria of about three years ago, there are still a few planned projects out there. As we have mentioned before in these pages, China has a long history of involvement with gasification and several IGCC projects in the pipeline. And the Chinese are certainly no slouches when it comes to converting power generation plans into plants (as exemplified by recent progress in the nuclear field, with construction now underway on the world’s first Generation III+ units (the AP1000s at Sanmen and Haiyang, see p 5)).

While we are on the subject of China, it is also significant that a matter of weeks before the start of the Olympics the Chinese succeeded in getting a post combustion pilot carbon capture facility up and running at one of Huaneng’s coal fired power plants, a joint project with CSIRO of Australia (see p 38). This is more than has been achieved so far in many countries that talk of selling CCS expertise to the Chinese in the future (eg, the British, whose much vaunted CCS competition was designed with a view to developing technology that is backfittable to operating coal fired power plants, notably the Chinese fleet). Basically, in carbon capture, as in IGCC and so many other areas of technology, the Chinese are doing it for themselves.

Also striking in this regard are Chinese aspirations in the renewables sector (see p 11) and the fact that China has for the first time entered the top five in Ernst & Young’s attractiveness index for renewables investment, displacing the UK (the top five ranking now being USA (1st), followed by Germany, India, China and Spain).

Meanwhile, IGCC + CCS also remains on the agenda, just, in the USA (with the refocused Futuregen programme specifically targeting this technology, for example, and Duke’s Edwardsport IGCC plant said to be in the early stages of construction, although it has to get recent cost increases past the regulator.

IGCC + CCS is also under consideration in Australia, as part of the reconfigured ZeroGen programme, for example (see p 38), and in the UK, where Powerfuel continues to pursue its Hatfield project, although the plan is now to implement this scheme in two phases, natural gas fuelled (but synfuel-ready) combined cycle plant followed by full IGCC + CCS, see p 31 (a strategy reminiscent of that adopted by Nuon for its Magnum IGCC plant in the Netherlands).

Canada also has a champion of IGCC + CCS in the shape of EPCOR, which is looking at a 270 MWe IGCC plant for its Genesee site and has just announced that Siemens has been selected as the gasification technology supplier for the ongoing FEED (front end engineering and design).

So IGCC + CCS still has its champions in the utility community, but it is not difficult to find those with reservations.

While RWE may still be considering an IGCC + CCS demo project for deployment at a site (yet to be publicly disclosed) somewhere in northern Germany (subject to government financial support being available), its UK arm, RWE npower, is focusing its CCS efforts very much on post combustion capture (and plans to continue with this effort even though it failed to prequalify in the UK government’s CCS competition, see MPS, August 2008, pp 12-13).

Key issues here are concerns about availability and flexibility – as highlighted at a recent meeting of the IChemE’s Energy Conversion Technology Subject Group in London, entitled, “Four Ways to Capture Carbon.” Dr Michael Whitehouse of RWE npower gave some very valuable insights into how a utility weighs up the potential of the various capture technologies. IGCC+CCS might promise higher overall efficiency but on current information this must be set against the relatively low availabilities recorded by IGCC plants in their first three years of operation and their lack of flexibility in operational terms.

When real world imperatives such as fulfilling grid code requirements, maintaining grid frequency within tight limits, and keeping the lights on are taken into account, and consideration given to issues such as closeness to commercial readiness, retrofittability and the ability of a power plant to continue to operate should the CCS system fail, RWE npower has concluded that, for the moment at least, post combustion capture by amine scrubbing is the way to go.

But it is also keeping a watching brief on a range of other technologies. This is prudent as interest in CCS is of course a relatively new thing (as the plot of Google searches on p 29 testifies) and it is difficult at this stage to see how the technology will pan out. The new focus on carbon is encouraging some very innovative – and potentially game-changing – ways of thinking about how we approach fossil fired generation. One example is the “Integrated Gasification Steam Cycle” – a “pressurised oxyfuel cycle that uses water as a coolant” (see MPS, May 2008, p 30) – which was described by John Griffiths of Jacobs in another impressive presentation at the “Four Ways to Capture Carbon” seminar. “We are looking at aspects of power generation and gas treatment that no-one else is looking at,” he said, and “the more we pull this rock up the more interesting it gets.”