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Category Archives: Hydrogen assisted combustion

Dirty coal is still a popular choice for power generation around the world, irrespective of the status of the country, whether industrially advanced or backward. The abundant availability and cheap cost, makes coal more attractive from investor’s point of view; they care less for the environment, while Governments turn a blind eye to all the emissions and pollutions. It is a question of survival for millions of people who work in coal mines and industries. It is one of the toughest challenges many Government are facing. Take for example India; about 65% of power generation still comes from coal. The import of coal increases year after year and there is no immediate solution in sight. Indian coal is a low-grade coal with very high ash content. Each coal-fired power plant generates a huge amount of fly ash and they stockpile them; supposed to be used in the production of Portland cement. It is a big business.

China and Indonesia too uses coal as a major fuel for power generation. But they have come out with an innovative and pragmatic method of using coal. They use coal-water-slurry (CWS), a finely pulverized high  grade coal (calorific value 5100-6100Kcal/kg) in water. They use some chemical additives that make the slurry a homogeneous fluid, similar to a Hydrocarbon such as Heavy fuel oil (HFO).The advantage with CWS is it can be easily pumped and injected into a furnace or boiler using ceramic nozzles, obviously to avoid erosion due the abrasive nature of coal, just like firing diesel or heavy oil. According to the literature, 1.8 -2.2 tons of CWS is equal to 1 ton of Heavy fuel oil (HFO) and it costs about the same. It cost only US$ 62 million to retrofit an existing coal-fired power plant with CWS system and the yearly savings are estimated at US$ 41 mil per year, an attractive rerun on investment.

The beautiful aspect of this method is it generates Hydrogen rich Syngas according to the following chemical reaction.

2C + O2+2 H2O ——– 2H2+2 CO2 when the mixture is subject to Gasification instead of mere Combustion.

The combustion efficiency is about 96-99% and the boiler efficiency of more than 90%. It generates less Sulfur dioxide and Nitrogen oxide emissions and good for the environment compared to conventional coal-fired power plants. It is a good technology that needs the attention of Governments especially India, China and Indonesisa.Even coal rich countries like US, Australia should focus on this technology apart from their persuasion such as carbon sequestration.

In fact this will open new avenues for India and China to switch over to Hydrogen economy without making large investments. The coal water slurry fluid has a property similar to a Hydrocarbon as shown below.

Density 65-70% ,Viscosity -1000Cp, Size d< 50 microns, Ash content <7, Sulfur<0.5%. It is easy to handle a liquid than solid coal. pulverized coal is pneumatically conveyed and fired in rotary cement kilns for so many years. There is nothing new about it. Similarly coal water slurry can be a game changer for  the power industry,  if it is combined with Gasification and combined cycle;  it will lead  into Hydrogen based power generation industry using Fuel cell such as Molten Carbonate Fuel cell (MCFC). I believe there is a clear opportunity for the Governments and private industries  to seriously look into CWS technology which I believe, is a ‘precursor’ for Hydrogen economy of the future.

We have been using fossil fuels like diesel, petrol and natural gas for power generation and transportation from the time of industrial revolution. The basic fuel and the combustion technology are practically the same with efficiencies less than 40%. In fact we have become very complacent with both the fuel and the combustion technology and there were no major research and development on both the above issues. In fact we became completely dependent on these two issues and there was no real breakthrough either in substituting the fossil fuel or in the combustion technology. The basic reason behind this situation can be attributed to the discovery of electromagnetism, which opened the way for electricity generation as well as transportation. In both these industries, the key part is the motor which provided a rotary motion. This rotary motion generates electricity in turbines and such motion is created by combustion of a fuel, which is invariably a fossil fuel. We have carried on this for few decades before the emission of greenhouse started rising abnormally and became an issue.

We are now at cross roads wondering what the future holds for the world. Is it possible to carry on the business as usual or look for an alternative source of energy? We started looking at various sources of energy as an alternative. Any alternative energy source should meet two critical parameters namely the lower or no carbon emission and sustainability. Low carbon can be achieved by few methods. The immediate option is to maximize the energy efficiency of existing systems so that for the given input of fuel the output is much higher than what we have achieved all these years. But this increase in efficiency should be real to achieve the emission levels of greenhouse suggested by the UN panel on climate change.

The second option will be to switch over to different fuels with less carbon emission e.g., coal-fired power plants switching over to gas-fired power plants using combined cycle. Retrofitting organic Rankin cycle as a bottoming for steam turbines to squeeze out some extra energy. Decentralizing the power plants in a phased manner in favor of distributed energy systems where gas, instead of electricity, can be supplied to each industry, to generate their own power using CHP process. All these measures can help reduce the emission level but our dependency on fossil fuel will still continue.

W can look at a completely different fuel source and new technology for power generation and transportation. If we look at carefully there are not many alternative fuel sources except Hydrogen that could meet these limits. We are also trying to develop bio fuels. But biofuels are also organic chemicals with carbon backbone which will generate greenhouse emission. Moreover bio fuel sources such as palm oil, corn are also food sources. There is an indiscriminate deforestation and plantation of palm trees in tropical countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and PNG. The focus is now shifting to carbon based organic compounds like biofuel and biogas. This will create a situation where food crops will be substituted with energy crops creating food shortage.But the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere may not be reduced drastically by these methods.

We need to develop an energy source which does not emit any carbon emission and at the same time we should be able to use existing technology to the possible extent. Only Hydrogen can meet these requirements. In the current situation it is impossible to substitute fossil fuels in a short span of time. We can cut fossil fuels by blending with Hydrogen to the most extent possible so that we can meet two goals. We can cut the carbon emission and at the same time we can deploy Hydrogen as a blended fuel with fossil fuel and not, pure Hydrogen. Since Hydrogen is a very light gas and readily forms an explosive mixture with oxygen, this opens up a new opportunity to develop Hydrogen assisted combustion process in power generation as well as in transportation. It will be easier to handle a mixture of natural gas and Hydrogen for combustion in Gas turbine, or spark ignited reciprocating engines, as well as, gasoline combustion engines in cars. This will also gives us an opportunity to develop advanced and competitive systems like Fuel cell as an alternative technology for combustion process in due course of time.

The hydrogen assisted combustion technology is much easier, faster and economical and at the same time cut the greenhouse emission to an accepted level. But the source of such Hydrogen cannot be natural gas but only renewable sources. The renewable technologies such as solar, wind, geothermal, OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion) should generate renewable Hydrogen. This is the key for sustainability as well as for greenhouse gas mitigation. These two benefits are too attractive to ignore and it is time we move from total fossil fuel to Hydrogen blended fossil fuel. The blended fuel along with the energy efficiency measures suggested above should go hand in hand, so that we may get over this turbulent period of financial crisis and global warming.

It is also possible that Hydrogen assisted combustion be adopted for coal-fired power plants by simply firing coal slurry, finely powdered coal blended with water and conveyed pneumatically for firing boilers and also for gasification process to generate syngas for IGCC (Integrated gasification and combined cycle) applications. Syngas production will be critical in the near future for a smoother transition from fossil economy to Hydrogen economy irrespective of the route we adopt.

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