Australian firm is part of proposed gasification plant
DICKINSON - If everything goes as planned, the proposed Great Northern Power Development and Allied Syngas Corp. gasification plant near South Heart is to feature the global debut of low-temperature technology to extract water and other impurities from low rank coal.
This technology that's been researched by GTL Energy (USA) Limited has its roots in Australia and may revolutionize the future opportunities for using low rank coal like North Dakota lignite.
GTL Energy opened its offices in Golden, Colo., in 2005 after getting its start in 2000 in Adelaide, South Australia, said CEO Robert French.
"We have looked at coals from around the world. Basically, our philosophy is to upgrade the lignites and the low grade coals of the world by removing the moisture, and where necessary the ash and some of the soluble salts," French said.
By removing the water from the coal, it radically improves the amount of heat the coal can produce. French said in working with the different samples of North Dakota lignite they collected during trips here in the fall of 2005, they produced a high-quality briquette that raised the thermal energy from 6,000 BTUs to over 9,000 BTUs.
If the water isn't extracted from the coal before it is burned, you use more coal to burn off the water, which increases emission levels.
"By improving the efficiency of the plant, it reduces CO2 emissions. By adding a washing plant to the beginning of our process, we were also able to remove ash, which again increases the BTU value, and some of the soluble salts," French said.
GTL Energy's proprietary technology has some patents issued and additional patents are pending, French said. He said they deliberately looked for technology other than traditional high-temperature processing to remove water from coal.
"This was our direction from Day 1. We felt that half of the world's (coal) reserves are low grade. If you look at emissions, low-grade coals always have very high emissions," he said.
French said Great Northern and Allied have extensively studied all of the other coal upgrade technologies that exist.
"Al Lukes has been all over the world looking at coal beneficiation technologies," Great Northern Vice President Rich Voss said of their gasification project consultant. "We think this is the best one out there."
Voss said the idea is to improve the coal product that goes into the gasifiers that converts the coal into liquid.
"We have been hoping to find a good beneficiation process. Dakota Gas doesn't use a beneficiation process there," Voss said of the existing Beulah gasification plant.
French said GTL Energy is looking at a system now to recapture much of the water its process removes and it has analyzed that water.
"Chemically, it is just brackish water. There doesn't appear to be any noxious components to it," French said.
The water recaptured from the coal is intended to result in a minimal amount of groundwater being required to operate the overall gasification plant.
French said their research already has seen the technology evolve to a commercially scaled plant, and what GTL Energy builds for the South Heart project is the first-ever field deployment of that technology.
"Timewise, we will try to coordinate everything with the South Heart gasification plant," French said. "Our research is basically done. It's more equipment selection to fit the circumstance."
He said GTL Energy is very pleased to roll out its technology after a lot of time, money and effort has been spent on the concept.
"The opportunity to work in North Dakota with Great Northern and Allied is really a premium opportunity for us," French said. "It essentially gives us the go ahead to put this into production and the implications for all of the other power producers in North Dakota and elsewhere around the world can benefit from it."