Thursday, February 14, 2008

UW and GE sign deal on clean-coal project

The big coal-driven news yesterday was a deal between the University of Wyoming and General Electric Energy to develop an Advanced Coal Technology Center.

And in the Legislature, two bills about carbon sequestration passed first reading in the House.

The proposed GE Energy/UW project would, according to a UW press release, "consist of a small-scale gasification system that would allow UW and GE researchers to develop advanced coal gasification technology solutions for Powder River Basin (PRB) and other Wyoming coals."

There’s more:

GE’s cleaner-coal integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) and gasification technology... has been in use at the 230-megawatt TECO Polk I Station in Florida for more than 10 years. The company currently offers a 630-megawatt commercial-scale plant that produces 75 percent less Sox (oxides of sulfur), 33 percent less NOx (oxides of nitrogen), 40 percent less particulate matter, captures 90 percent more mercury and uses 30 percent less water than a pulverized coal plant. Duke Energy, AEP and other utilities in the eastern U.S. have committed to using GE's IGCC technology in proposed projects.

Florida is known more for its orange groves than coal fields, so citrus gasification would be a suitable route for the Sunshine State. But Wyoming produces more than 400 million tons of coal annually which, according to UW, "fuels more than 30 percent of the national electrical power generation needs."

Before this project can proceed, the GE/UW alliance is asking the Legislature for a $20 million match to build the plant outside of Laramie. Gov. Freudenthal backs the project, so do some legislators. My guess is that the Legislature will approve the funds.

While I would prefer that we should focus on conservation and alternative energy sources such as wind and solar, it’s not realistic to think that could replace carbon fuels overnight. Besides, the State of Wyoming’s budget is powered by carbon too, those royalties collected when oil and gas and coal are pulled out of the ground.

Both Wyoming and Montana are looking at clean-coal technologies. While they may be interim steps on the way to energy independence, we can’t forget that we can’t put global warming on hold while we work this stuff out.

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