IDGCC. Not a typographical error but a new acronym that the gasification community may have to get to grips with in the near future. It stands for integrated drying and gasification combined cycle – basically lignite-fuelled IGCC employing a combination of pressurised drying and gasification. According to an announcement made in March, a 400 MW project using this technology is to receive support under Australia’s Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund (see pp 44-45).

This is one of several developments over recent months that can be viewed as positive by proponents of integrated gasification combined cycle technology.

Admittedly the number of operating coal based IGCC plants, as we have noted many times before, still remains stubbornly at a paltry four, although a fifth – MHI’s 250 MWe Nakoso plant in Japan (which features an air-blown gasifier) – is scheduled to start up very soon. And, while there is now no lack of proposals for coal-based IGCC plants around the world – the number seems to be growing month by month – there is, as yet, nothing else actually under construction. But some of the planned IGCC projects are making progress, or at least showing signs of activity – a particular driver being the perceived benefits of IGCC over pulverised coal combustion when it comes to carbon dioxide capture. Carbon capture “readiness” is rapidly approaching the status of a minimum requirement in many regions of the world for anyone seeking to build a coal fuelled power plant, and mandatory carbon capture cannot be that far away in the minds of many environmental regulators.

In April Powerfuel of the UK (see this month’s News, page 5) announced it had entered into a licence agreement with Shell entitling it to use Shell’s gasification technology for its long-proposed Hatfield IGCC plant (rather surprisingly, as it had always looked like a contender for the GE (formerly Texaco) gasifier system). A factor in the choice of the Shell technology would appear to have been recent changes in the Shell configuration aimed at reducing the costs of carbon capture. An interesting feature of Hatfield is that the plan is not merely to be capture ready but to have carbon capture (at a level of about 85%) actually installed from the outset – and the way things are going, with the world’s growing aversion to carbon, this may prove to have been a very prudent piece of forward planning.

Richard Budge, CEO of Powerfuel, says his company’s vision is “to be the first commercial-scale coal fired power generator with carbon capture in the world”, with carbon dioxide to be pumped into “secure storage sites in the North Sea”, via pipeline from Humberside. But this will not happen without government support. So Mr Budge is hoping his project will be chosen for funding in the competition that the UK government is to launch “to develop the UK’s first full-scale carbon capture and storage demonstration,” as announced in the March 2007 budget statement. The terms of the competition are expected to be contained in the energy white paper due to be published in May, with the results to be made known next year.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, Nuon has taken time out from the business of merging with Essent to announce that it has signed an “early work agreement” with Uhde, the prospective EPC contractor for its Magnum coal and biomass fuelled IGCC project (featured in the April issue of MPS), scheduled to start up in 2011. Magnum will also use the Shell technology, which is understandable as Nuon has invested a good deal of time and money getting the availability of its 250 MWe Shell-gasifier-based Buggenum IGCC plant up to acceptable levels.

The announcement of the choice of EPC contractor for Magnum can be seen as a further positive step for IGCC, although it should be borne in mind that Nuon has not yet taken a final investment decision. Indeed, one of the key early tasks for Uhde, which built the 318 MWe Puertollano IGCC plant in Spain (still the world’s largest coal based IGCC), will be to establish solid cost estimates for the Magnum project, at a time of sharply increasing prices, notably for raw materials. The Dutch need this information to make their go/no go decision – expected later this year, perhaps in October. Nuon estimates the costs of carbon dioxide capture for a new build IGCC plant to be in the range 20-25 r/t carbon dioxide, compared with 30-50 r/t carbon dioxide for “conventional coal plants” and intends Magnum to start operation, in 2011, in a capture ready state. Following development and demonstration of capture technology at small scale using the Buggenum plant, Nuon plans to fit the technology to one of the Magnum gasifier trains in 2013 or thereabouts, providing about 40% CO2 capture, with geosequestration (and giving the plant, when operating on coal, a “carbon footprint” about similar to a natural gas fuelled unit).

With one notable exception, IGCC plans have also been progressing in the USA. Late last year, as part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act’s generous support to clean coal, which included $800 million specifically for IGCC, three new 700-MWe-class coal-based IGCC plants were awarded $ 133 million each in tax credits: Edwardsport; Polk; and Kemper. An announcement about the award of the remaining $400 million earmarked for IGCC is expected in June.

In December NRG received an award, albeit conditional on obtaining a government subsidy, of a contract from NYPA to build a 680 MWe IGCC at Huntley, for start-up in 2013 with carbon capture and storage from day one. In April the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority announced it was joining with Pacificorp to explore development of an IGCC at the Jim Bridger site running on high altitude western coals. April also saw the signing by the US Department of Energy of a “record of decision” paving the way for construction of the 285 MWe Stanton IGCC plant, which will use an air-blown “transport” gasifier, and into which DoE is putting $235 million, some 41% of the funding.

IGCC is even considered worth pursuing by the new green private equity prospective owners of TXU who have cancelled all but three of the utility’s planned PC plants but have launched the planning process for two IGCC plants in Texas, with CCS, one running on PRB, the other on lignite.

Sadly, this enthusiasm for IGCC is not shared by two administrative law judges who have recommended to the Minnesota PUC that Excelsior’s DoE-supported Mesaba IGCC project should not be granted a power purchase agreement to provide power to utility Xcel (see for the background and details). The judges conclude, among many other things, that the plant is not an “innovative energy project”. This seems a little perverse bearing in mind that Mesaba can claim to be the first US power project to file a carbon capture and sequestration plan with a regulator.

Thankfully the judges’ advice, which is, to say the least, eccentric in several other ways, is not binding on the PUC, which will be coming to its own independent decision over the coming months.