Gasification enables a wide range of energy sources including coal, biomass and residual oils to be converted into environmentally-friendly chemicals and fuels. Most of the effluents normally created in atmospheric burning plants are caught before combustion and converted into useful by-products, or captured for safe storage.
The process is considered an important step in converting coal to Substitute Natural Gas (SNG) and cleaner transportation fuels, including those suitable for aviation. But in the US, the FutureGen project to build and operate a 100% carbon capturing power station by 2013 was fragmented by the abandonment of the single project in favour of support for a number of smaller demonstration CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) units. In the UK, pre-combustion capture schemes were excluded from the DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change) competition, designed to have a demonstration scale CCS plant in operation by 2014.
Despite these hurdles, there remains a growing international dimension to gasification projects. In China, numerous projects are being built for the production of chemicals and power, using both indigenous and imported gasification systems. Canada is closely watching the initial operation of its first commercial gasification plant in Alberta and the new US leadership offers the opportunity for the re-examination of the role of gasification in coal based power plants. IChemE Director of Policy, Andrew Furlong says he has experienced first-hand the changing attitude towards gasification: "Over the last two years, I have noticed how the language has changed when chemical engineers and scientists talk about gasification. It’s no longer about ‘if’, but now about ‘how’ and frequently ‘when’.
However, the successful roll-out of the technology is still subject to establishing a robust and effective European Union carbon trading scheme.” Jim Harrison, Chair of IChemE’s Energy Conversion subject group has also noted the transformation: "The Gasification conference has moved on from paper studies on theoretical cycles for power production to serious studies by potential users.” The 9th European Gasification Conference: Clean Energy and Chemicals returns to Germany in March with the chemical engineering community and IChemE (the Institution of Chemical Engineers) backing the new technology.
The conference: , takes place in Dusseldorf on 23-25 March and, despite recent decisions by both the US and UK Governments which have hampered the technology’s progress, senior figures within chemical engineering say gasification technologies will play a major role in plans to reduce global carbon emissions.