We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Clean electricity from coal

April 2, 2007 6:00 PM
By Thomas Ruhnke in SiemensWorld - The Employee Newspaper
Cross-section of the Siemens fuel gasifier (SFG), a central element of Siemens’ gasification technology. The gasification process takes place here at pressures of up to 40 bar.

Cross-section of the Siemens fuel gasifier (SFG), a central element of Siemens' gasification technology. The gasification process takes place here at pressures of up to 40 bar.

Sustec acquisition strengthens position in the growing market for clean electricity from coal - Global demand for electricity is growing constantly. Experts anticipate that demand will have nearly doubled by 2030 compared with 2000. However, power generation must be as environmentally benign as possible to prevent the earth from becoming a greenhouse. With this in mind, Siemens has consistently expanded its expertise in environmentally friendly electricity production over the past few years, including acquisitions in markets that are undergoing rapid technical transformation. By acquiring the coal gasification activities of Sustec, Siemens has secured a key technology for low-emission power generation.

"Coal-fired power plants will continue to account for a significant portion of power generation in the future," says Klaus Voges, Power Generation Group president. Of this he is firmly convinced. His view is supported by the fact that crude oil and natural gas reserves are concentrated in just a few countries of the world and are located in ever remoter locations. These fossil energy sources must be extracted under increasingly difficult conditions and are becoming more and more scarce and expensive.

By contrast, there are considerably larger coal reserves distributed more widely throughout the world in politically more stable regions such as Asia and North America. Coal-fired power plants are also considerably cheaper than power generation from regenerative sources such as wind and sun. It is therefore not surprising that over the past few years demand for power plant technology based on coal has grown substantially in important markets such as China and the U.S. But coal-generated electricity also means reducing to the absolute minimum the amount of the climate killer CO2 that is pumped into the atmosphere.

Clean energy from coal with IGCC

Against a backdrop of the need for climate protection and increasing interest in solutions for clean power generation with coal, considerable importance is being placed on new power plant concepts for the environmentally compatible generation of electricity from coal, such as the IGCC power plant (IGCC: Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle).

An IGCC power plant consists of a combined cycle power plant with an upstream coal gasification facility. Using this principle, coal is heated under extreme pressure, producing a pure synthetic gas (see graphic). It is much easier to capture CO2 from the burning of synthetic gas. Siemens is backing this integrated coal gasification technology for power plants. And that technology benefits from the advances made by Siemens in gas turbine development.

Broad scope of applications

"Siemens can now offer coal gasification technology that is suitable not only for clean electricity generation from coal - and potentially also other energy sources such as biomass or other waste materials - but also for the production of synthetic fuels and chemical products," says Dr. Martin Pfund, head of PG's Fuel Gasification subdivision (PG FG). "Today, that is the main business of the FG subdivision in the chemicals sector," adds Pfund.

Vision for the future: Zero-emission coal-fired power plant

Siemens already offers reliable coal gasification technology for high-performance power plants as well, with emission levels far below those of the most advanced conventional coal-fired plants. In the future, it will also be possible to dispose of the resulting CO2 greenhouse gas without harm to the environment using a process known as carbon capture and storage.

In this process, CO2 is separated out from the synthetic gas and, in a further step, is stored safely underground without polluting the earth's atmosphere, possibly in unused former natural gas and crude oil storage reservoirs.

No implementation until 2020

Experts anticipate, however, that the "CO2-free" coal-fired power plant will not be ready for service before 2020. As a power plant manufacturer, Siemens will play a crucial role in developing this technology, which offers a supply of energy that is reliable and at the same time highly compatible with the environment. With the acquisition of Sustec, Siemens is even better prepared for this.

David Goodall's note to reader - This article outlines how close we are to zero emission from coal, currently extremely reduced emissions are possible. The future is in technology such as this and not in the nuclear technology of the past.