CANADIAN MINING PERSPECTIVES: Coal-to-hydrocarbons is more than just hot air

CMJ readers are a knowledgeable group when it comes to coal-to-gas technology. The process is familiar to Mike Dry,...

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CMJ readers are a knowledgeable group when it comes to coal-to-gas technology. The process is familiar to Mike Dry, who owns a consulting business, Arithmetek Inc., in Peterborough, Ontario. He wrote: "Coal to liquid fuel is really not new technology at all.

"Sasol in South Africa started [investigating] that back in the 1950s, [while] everyone said they were deeply and completely nuts, going that way when oil was so cheap and abundant. Their motives weren't too pure, being strategic and not economic. [Sasol was] anticipating a time when the world would frown on the old apartheid policies.

"The process of gasification followed by Fischer Tropsch technology that Sasol perfected over the years. Anyway, Sasol is now a major producer of synfuel and various other hydrocarbon products from coal. Methanol, etc., is great, too, but if you want well-established, proven technology, go see Sasol," he concluded.

Cassandra Cook, PEng, brought to my attention a Canadian company, Alter NRG of Calgary, that is actively pursuing a coal-to-gas business. The company has a resource of approximately 953 million tonnes of in situ coal in central Alberta. By its estimate, that is the equivalent of 1.5 billion bbl of liquid fuel such as diesel. NRG subsidiary Westinghouse Plasma Corp., has developed a plasma gasification reactor which can handle a wide variety of feedstocks, including waste, coal and petroleum coke, to create syngas that can be used to generate electricity or produce liquid fuels.

This week I learned that Epcor Power Generation of Mississauga, Ontario, is planning to build Canada's first low-emissions integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plant. A 250-MW demonstration plant is to be built in Genesee, Alberta. It is expected to come on line in 2015. Siemens will provide the technology licence, as well as the process and basic engineering design based on its SFG-500 coal gasifier. Siemens is also expected to supply the gasification reactor and components of the feed system.

I am happy to know that Canadians have taken up the challenge.

And a third reader wrote to remind me that the continent of Antarctica does indeed have coal resources. Thanks for the correction, although I can't imagine mining of any kind taking place near the South Pole due to the international coalition that manages the continent as a research base.

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