Dominion Tests Clean Coal Technology

Dominion is testing new technology at its Brayton Point Power Station in Massachusetts that will convert coal into streams of clean natural gas and carbon dioxide, while eliminating mercury, sulfur and other pollutants. If the technology proves to be commercially viable, and if someone can invent a way to sequester the carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, it would transform the economics of coal-generated electricity. (Read the press release.)

“The potential of this project to solve two major problems − making America more energy independent and reducing emissions of carbon dioxide – cannot be ignored,” said Mark F. McGettrick, CEO of Dominion Generation. “This technology has the potential to help provide a ‘missing link’ in terms of solving air emissions issues at coal-fired power plants. … There are proven and commercially available technologies that will sharply reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and particulates. But thus far there has not been any commercially proven way to separate carbon dioxide as a first step toward capturing and sequestering those emissions. This technology could make it possible.”

Dominion should be lauded for pursuing this clean-coal alternative. We will all benefit if the power company finds a way to make coal an environmentally acceptable fuel that emits no greenhouse gases. But let us not be distracted from a larger point: This technology supports the Big Grid electric power model based on monster power plants and gargantuan transmission lines. Virginia needs to move towards a distributed grid system that integrates small-scale power sources at the community, neighborhood and residential level.

Question for economic developers: Dominion is investing $25 million in the demonstration plant and related R&D Center of Excellence. Why Massachusetts and not Virginia? Did anyone in Virginia know this was coming down the pike?

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15 responses to “Dominion Tests Clean Coal Technology”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s what Environmental Defense says about clean coal technology:

    “IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) …is a clean coal technology that turns coal into a gas, and then removes impurities from the coal gas before it is combusted. This technology results in lower emissions of sulfur dioxide, fine particulates, mercury and carbon dioxide. It also results in improved efficiency compared to conventional pulverized coal.”

    The Sierra Club is also supportive but warns:

    “Economics is the big hurdle. Carbon capture and storage would raise the cost of coal power by 40 to 90 percent. If polluters had to pay a tax of $100 per ton of carbon emitted, however, sequestration would become a more attractive option.”

    Here is what another blog says about Great Points process :

    “GreatPoint Energy is developing a gasification process for converting coal into high value clean natural gas which they call BluegasTM. The gas is 98% methane (1000 BTU/ft3), meeting all natural gas purity requirements and can be transported using the existing natural gas pipeline”

    further… it appears that home reactors using the same process are possible…

    and a good point made about Dominion and Virginia where they want to build a new coal plant in Western Virginia, a new Nuke and more power lines.

    Is Dominion Power’s Western Va plant to be IGCC? If not, why not? And who exactly is Virginia’s SCC representing when they essentially rubber stamp what Dominion proposes?

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    “A Norwegian solar energy company said Friday it plans to invest more than 3.0 billion euro (4.31 billion US) building a manufacturing plant in Singapore to produce solar wafers, cells and modules.

    Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) said the project has the potential of becoming the world’s biggest complex of its kind with a production capacity of up to 1.5 gigawatts, or about 75 percent of the total global output last year.”

    Solar Daily

    That is the kind of production increase that could make a real difference in the ROI of solar technology.

    Too bad it is a Norwegian company investing in Shanghai. A previous large solar technology investment was announced in Japan by another well known solar company.

    But let’s not kid ourselves in the meantime. A story in the Middleburg Eccentric this week documented one couples retrofit of Solar to their home. For technichal reasons they could not install on the roof so it was installed over part of the lawn.

    According to the installation contractor this is more expensive, but could have benefits in the long run. The installation still requires connection to the grid to take advantage of net metering and peak loading. That grid is still going to have to e large and have substantial reserve capacity.

    He also said that it is NOT a way to save money, because payback can take a decade or more, but is rather a social statement.

    This from a guy who is selling the stuff. An honest guy, apparently.


    “US giant General Motors said Monday it would launch a 250-million-dollar alternative fuel research centre in China, as it looks to dramatically ramp up production of more environmentally friendly cars.”

    Another investment opportunity missed.


    “PetroChina, the country’s largest oil and gas producer, has attracted a record 3.3 trillion yuan (440 billion dollars) in orders for its Shanghai initial public offering, state media said Monday. Demand exceeded the previous record set by China’s top coal company, Shenhua Energy, which drew 2.67 trillion yuan in a share offer last month, the China Securities Journal reported.”

    Gee, I’m sure glad we are working so hard to conserve energy in the U.S.

    China also launched a moon orbiter this week, right on schedule. Best tip for US Business school grads: learn Chinese.


    “The head of the UN atomic watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, on Monday pressed for a global reserve of nuclear fuel to safely meet growing worldwide demand for nuclear energy.”

    “Egypt announced on Monday a programme to build several nuclear power stations, pushing it towards the front of a queue of Middle Eastern nations eager for access to the controversial technology.”

    “A Japanese court on Friday refused to shut down a nuclear power plant, rejecting a plea by residents who fear radiation if a major earthquake strikes. An earthquake in July damaged the world’s largest nuclear power plant northwest of Tokyo, which leaked tiny amounts of radiation and remains shut for inspections.”

    I said twenty years ago (when I was involved in clean coal technology at a time of high oil prices) the the best way to promote nuclear power (or solar or that matter) would be to invest in coal powered plants. When we see how bad they are, nukes will look clean.

    Even so, don’t expect nukes to solve all your problems. We can wring our hands or sit on our hands, or we can get them dirty and get to work.


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    “it appears that home reactors using the same process are possible…”

    That would be interesting. A home IGCC unit producing gas to burn in your home electric generator / heat pump, with all the waste heat captured to assist the heat pump / water heater. With net metering back to the grid.

    This could actually work.

    Of course we would have to re-retrofit a lot of homes with coal chutes……

    There would be a whole new service industry to maintain and repair these things, and haul away the sulfur and mercury…..

    Since the polluters would now be the homeowners, Sierra club might need to alter their sales pitch…..

    With millions of emitters the pollution permit people would have to get a lot more efficient…..


  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Since it is converted into Natural Gas, probably neigborhood, regional, even alpha communities could centralize..

    but the bigger question is what is the most efficient way to get the coal fuel from where it is to where you’d want it to be converted into Natural Gas.

    Would you want the plant at the coal mine and move electricity the old fashioned way.. or a gazillion trucks carrying it across the interstates and local roads to on-site plants?

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Larry, nobody trucks coal more than 20 or 30 miles. If you need to move it any greater distance, you do it by rail or barge. If you can’t accept coal by rail or barge, you don’t burn it.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    nobody trucks coal more than 20 or 30 miles..

    right now…

    I’m not talking about from the mine…necessarily but from the existing distribution depots to future customers that did not burn coal for power.

    I alluded to it…

    Is our current paradigm of having regional power plants and mega powerline corridors.. going to be the same paradigm if we convert to clean coal technolgy?

    I primarily threw the “local power” thought into the brew – to see if the fundamental change settlement pattern condundrum would re-surface.. to embrace local power generation for balanced communities…

    I agree.. not likely we’re going to see coal trucks on our highways… but we might see new plants going in where Natural Gas pipelines are.. or new pipelines proposed.. which I suspect would please the power line opponents as well as the property rights folks.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    There is a very interesting USA Today article today about powerplants and mercury.. and it states that people use the equivalent of 20lbs of coal a day -for conventional coal-powered electricity. (try picking that up at the 7-11 on the way home every night).

    the article also pointed out that if all the mercury generated by all 500 of powerplants in the US were collected – it would fit in one SUV.

    now the bad news…”1/25th of a teaspoon of mercury into a 60-acre lake could contaminate the lake to the point that fish caught there would be unsafe to eat.”

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Mercury is pretty heavy. If you put it all in an SUV, the SUV would likely collapse.

    Interesting unit of measure though, and how American: Gimme a SUVfull!


  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Oh boy. “Clean coal” huh? Rex Bowman of the Times-Dispatch did a nice story last week pointing out that the “clean coal” label sure doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Sort of like “consumer-driven healthcare” but that’s another thread.

    Writes Bowman: “A $1.6 billion coal-fired power plant proposed for Wise County is touted by the utility company that wants to build it as an eco-friendly “clean coal” model of environmental design.
    But if built to the company’s specifications, it would be one of the biggest air polluters in Virginia, according to documents filed with the state.”

    Here’s the link:

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross…..

    Here is the difference between the quality and depth of info in BR, USA Today and RTD.

    search the article for the phrase “pulverized coal” or IGCC.

    nary a word on either.. on a proposed plant that will, once built, be:

    * – a long-term capital responsibility of Virginia rate-payers for an obsolete technology

    * – a “stranded” investment that Dominion will use to influence the direction of conservation and future policy in Virginia energy.

    * – a statement from Dominion and our GA that apparently what Dominion wants … is more important than what Virginia and Virginians want and need.

    I don’t expect RTD to be a fire-brand liberal rag for the environmental movement but geeze.. can they at least .. once in a while.. delve into a bit into incisive content…

    Quick Question – where would you go first to gather insightful content about Dominion and clean coal technolgy in Virginia – USA Today or RTD?

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    “Yesterday’s conference was hosted by the Greater Washington Board of Trade, an economic booster group, in ballrooms at the downtown Grand Hyatt. Titled ” ‘Green’ as a Competitive Advantage,” the event was intended to show that Washington’s new green ways could make money for the region — and for the people in the ballrooms. “

    Today’s WaPo

    At least some people are looking for real advantages from conservation.


  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “..was intended to show that Washington’s new green ways could make money for the region”

    and to think I’ve spent months trying to convince you that green widgets would be a win-win – right?

    “green properity”

    what a concept! 🙂

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    A agree, with the resrvation that green widgets are NOT a win win if they cost more than they save.

    There is a specific and well recognized method used to determine whether that condition is met.

    In addition, under the law, that method is specifically ignored when setting some environmental standards.

    The result is that, despite our good intentions, we have no idea whther we are really doing more harm than good, or not.

    It is my contention, that some proportion of the population believes we are doing as much harm as good. We need to change that perception in order to win the support of a broader base.


  14. Anonymous Avatar

    Re: clean coal and the T-D.

    Ha. Attack the messenger; the last refuge of a shaky argument. Whether the T-D or USAT is more ‘insightful’ depends… Critics of MSM who want insightful content could start by providing it.

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross


    though I don’t critcize the MM across the board.

    There are numerous and excellent analsyses written by those willing to work hard to get the story.

    to bring RTD to heel for NOT talking about the difference between “pulverized coal” and IGCC is … in my view .. not a “shaky” argument though especially when we have a new powerplant queued up for Construction and the Va GA is working it’s way through a fallback from deregulation and Dominion wants to use imminent Domain for more powerlines.

    You know when .. there is probably an insightful article is when the first page (on the internet) says 1 of 6.

    To be honest.. I’d be proud of RTD to be THE paper to read about Virginia issues…

    RDT.. let’s have some 6 page articles about Energy in Virginia!

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