Friendly Fossil Fuels

29 July 2009 (Last Updated July 29th, 2009 18:30)

Dutch renewable energy company Nuon is pioneering clean fossil fuel technology. Ozge Ibrahim finds out more about how it promises to speed up the move towards a sustainable energy future.

Friendly Fossil Fuels

The head of technology, development and control at renewable energy company Nuon, Robert De Klar, will be heading a forum focussing on the challenges of climate policy across the energy sector at the VIB Event Expperts conference in Berlin later this year. He will also be presenting Nuon’s latest fossil fuel-based projects which use gasification and pre-combustion CO2 capture techniques to reduce harmful emissions. Such innovations are particularly significant as politicians and power industry leaders prepare for the Copenhagen climate change talks in December where a new set of emissions standards will inevitably impact every part of the energy sector.

PT: There have been a number of important discussions in Europe building up to the Copenhagen talks in December which are expected to produce agreements to further cut emissions targets and improve funding methods for climate change adaption. What would you like to see come out of the Copenhagen talks?

RDK: In addition to financial support for front-runners, good regulation is essential to further cut emissions targets. [The industry must work] in close cooperation with governments and non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) to take further steps in the energy transition with the use of clean fossil fuels such as creating a regulatory framework and establishing sufficient financial safeguards to make the necessary investments.

PT: How can this be achieved?

RDK: This can be achieved, for example, by guaranteeing the CO2 price level for the longer term. It is also crucial to win public support by offering sufficient, clear and easy to understand information.

PT: Do you think the current economic crisis could affect future funding for climate friendly technology across the industry?

RDK: Large-scale renewable projects could initially benefit from the crisis due to lower prices, [especially] across the supplier and construction markets, but in the long run it could affect technology development due to further cost cutting in organisations.

"CCS will be an important instrument to further reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses."

PT: At the Expperts conference in Berlin, you will discuss the importance of gasification and pre-combustion capture. Can you give examples of such technology?

RDK: Nuon is working on the development of a new plant called Nuon Magnum, which is a multi-fuel power plant based on gasification technology in which biomass can be co-fired on a large scale and pre-combustion CO2 capture can take place.

The gas power plant is expected to start commercial operation in 2011 and then later in 2013/2014 the gasification section including CO2 capture will begin operations.

PT: What are the benefits of reducing CO2, Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and Sulphur Dioxide (SOx) and other harmful emissions?

RDK: One of the most important benefits of coal gasification is the environmental performance. The measurements in the gasification plant we have been operating since 1993 in Buggenum, The Netherlands, demonstrate very low emissions of dust, SO2, NOx and heavy metals.

This plant also offers the most cost-effective method of carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration, using the pre-combustion route essential for reducing CO2) emissions, especially in the near future.

At present we are building a test installation for carbon capture at our site in Buggenum. Nuon Magnum will also have the ability to fire substantial amounts of bio-fuels and other secondary fuels necessary to comply with future regulatory restrictions and a more sustainable energy balance.

PT: Do you have any other major projects in the pipeline, which will take further steps towards the reduction of harmful emissions? If so how do they work?

RDK: Yes, [we are working on] biomass co-firing at a large-scale in Buggenum. Also Bio SNG production – the new development of biomass conversion into clean gas – but this project is in a very early stages.

PT: How is Nuon preparing for the future with regards to CCS?

RDK: Nuon is preparing for CCS with an extensive pre-combustion programme including the pilot plant test at Buggenum. CCS will be an important instrument to further reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses. Most important is to combine different options to achieve the targets. Our sustainability strategy is based on the three pillars (Trias Energetica) which stands for: energy saving, renewable energy production and clean fossil fuel.

PT: What is the next step in clean fossil fuel technology?

"The pilot scheme will enable Nuon to acquire knowledge of how to reduce CO2 emissions substantially."

RDK: [The next step for Nuon] in clean fossil fuel is CO2 separation and at Buggenhum’s pilot scheme. Coal gasification is ideally suited for pre-combustion and CO2 capture, which means the CO2 is captured before the combustion process, and is possible because the technical process consists of two separate steps: first the coal and biomass are gasified to form a synthetic gas known as ‘syngas’, which is then fed to the gas turbine where electricity is produced. The CO2 capture installation easily fits in between these two steps.

PT: What are the advantages of pre-combustion capture?

RDK: Pre-combustion capture has several advantages compared to post-combustion. The technology is further developed and proven since the separate modules have been used in the petrochemical industry for over 50 years.

Several studies indicate that this method is economically more feasible and takes up less physical space. The main reason for this is the high concentration of CO2 in the syngas from the gasifier compared with the concentration of CO2 in the flue gases of a conventional coal plant.

The pilot scheme will enable Nuon to acquire knowledge of how to reduce CO2 emissions substantially. We aim to invest in a large-scale demo, with the potential of capturing 2 to 2.5 million tons of CO2 per year. This will bring the emissions level of a coal gasification plant down to the level of emissions from a gas plant, or even lower.

The Expperts conference, organised by ViB Events will take place in Berlin, Germany from 13-14 October 2009.