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Gasification Systems

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Overview
The DOE Gasification Systems Program is developing small-scale revolutionary modular designs for converting diverse types of coal into clean synthesis gas to enable the low-cost production of electricity, high-value chemicals, hydrogen, transportation fuels, and other useful products to suit market needs. Advancements in this area will help enable advanced power generation and other syngas-based technologies to be competitive in both domestic and international markets, and spur on the use of abundant domestic coal resources, in turn contributing towards increased energy security and reviving depressed markets in traditional coal-producing regions of the United States.

Gasification Key TechnologiesProgram Technology Areas
The research and development efforts of the Gasification Systems Program apply primarily to four key technology areas, advances in which are calculated to best contribute towards increase efficiency and enable cost reductions of modular gasification/syngas-based systems. These four technology areas are: (1) Air Separation, (2) Reactor Design Engineering, (3) Market-Optimized Design, and (4) Systems Integration. 

The Gasification Systems Program pursues technology advancements in these areas through on-site work at NETL, and by external funding opportunities resulting in a suite of projects performed by industry, academia, and other National Laboratories, and overseen by NETL.

Air Separation focuses on identification of new concepts and technologies for production of oxygen for use in gasification systems. Many gasification-based energy plants run more efficiently if the oxidant is oxygen rather air, but they rely on conventional cryogenic air separation which is expensive both in terms of capital expenditure and cost to operate. Accordingly, the technologies under development target both low cost and high levels of operational efficiency. Fields of investigation under Air Separation currently include:

  • Membranes
  • Sorbents
  • Ion Transport Membranes
  • Cryogenic-based Air Separation Systems Improvements and Modularization
  • Innovative Concepts

The Reactor Engineering Design key technology area addresses control of chemical reactions in increasingly modular and intrinsically efficient reactors, allowing for smaller reactors and streamlined processes, with a focus on conversion of coal into syngas. Clean syngas enables highly efficient and low carbon footprint power generation, and is ideal for fuels or chemicals production, or combinations thereof (i.e. polygeneration). Improved performance of reactors for gasification, syngas upgrading and cleanup, and conversion of syngas into fuels or power will enable low-cost and highly energy-efficient systems with excellent environmental performance. Fields of investigation under Reactor Engineering Design currently include:

  • Modular gasification
  • Chemical looping gasification
  • Modular syngas cleanup, separations and conversion

Market-Optimized Design concerns designs and strategies for modular gasification-based energy conversion plants, which can be flexibly right-sized, configured and sited for local coal, waste coal and coal fines, and biomass blending for feedstock conversion to high-value marketable products. Modular coal gasification systems could create a synergism of co-utilizing low-cost opportunity feedstocks to synthesize products targeted to local market dynamics. Fields of investigation under Market-Optimized Design include:

  • Fischer-Tropsch (FT) catalyst systems for coal-to-liquids implemented at remote sites—Small modular reactor technologies that convert syngas to liquid fuels, olefins, and other value-added products are now being demonstrated commercially in the 50–200 barrels per day scale. However, commercially available FT catalysts have poor performance at small scales. NETL has been developing a new class of FT catalysts optimized for small modular reactors, composed of nanoparticulate iron dispersed on a thermally conductive carbon. These catalyst materials have the highest selectivities, highest CO conversions, and longest service lifetimes reported in the literature, and will be further improved to enhance the performance of modular coal to liquids plants.

Systems Integration focuses on increasing availability, reliability, efficiency, and flexibility of integrated gasification-based systems, which will result in improved overall performance and lowered costs. Advances in this area will address challenging scenarios faced by gasification-based systems, such as integrating into power grids along with intermittently available renewable energy technologies like solar and wind. This addresses a market need for fossil energy-based systems to operate with high cycling, possibly with incorporation of energy storage, and other innovations to enable load-following of the evolving power grid. Systems integration technologies will also aid in other scenarios implemented as distributed energy resources in off-grid remote applications. Fields of investigation under System Integration currently include:

  • High pressure dry solid feed—High-efficiency gasification often requires very high operating pressures. Conventional coal feeding at high pressure can only be accomplished by feeding the coal as slurry (usually coal-water slurry), which may not be suitable for lower-rank coals which must be fed dry to the gasifier. Innovative dry solid feeding technology enables high pressure feeding of a wider range of coals to gasification processes, resulting in higher gasification operating efficiencies and increased flexibility in fueling options for gasification processes and syngas production.
  • Advanced refractory for advanced manufactured components—Conventional refractory lining of gasifiers must be periodically replaced, necessitating operational outages. More durable advanced refractories reduce the frequency of outages, increasing system availability and reliability. Refractory for innovative new modular reactors and application by advanced manufacturing techniques is in order. 

Gasification Basics
To better understand the basic concepts behind Gasification, watch this short video

Wabash River Power Plant
Wabash River IGCC Power Plant

Background
The Gasification Systems Program and its forerunners played an important role in development of efficient coal-power technologies in the United States. Notably, these included highly efficient and low-polluting integrated gasification combined cycle power plants, among the best-performing coal-based plants of their era when they were commissioned in the late 20th century. The Gasification Systems Program has continued development of coal gasification and syngas technologies; notable examples include transport gasification and warm syngas cleanup. However, coal syngas-based units for power production and other uses struggle in the current market situation both domestically and abroad.

Gasification Technology Evolution
Coal-based plants of the future will need to be highly efficient, flexible, reliable, and environmentally responsible to compete with other sources of power generation. The inherent advantages of gasification in efficiency and environmental performance underscore the importance of the Gasification Systems Program technology development towards meeting these objectives. Essentially, new gasification-based coal plants must have competitive efficiencies and minimized costs (especially dispatch costs considering the increasing demand for load following induced by the increasing presence of renewable power assets on the grid). To compete domestically, new power generation technologies will need to be flexible, in terms of cycling quickly and handling multiple fuel types (e.g., coal and natural gas, coal and biomass). Gasification results in syngas, useful in flexible power generation options such as combustion turbines and engines, but also enables other value-added uses such as fuels production. The versatility possessed by gasification gives it significant potential in a varied marketplace.

Multi Burner Gasifier
Example of emerging modular gasification approach—1 ton per day opposed multi-burner gasifier

Path Forward: Modularity
In response to market needs for maximum flexibility at minimized costs, the program is now centered on the idea of advanced modular gasification-based systems, with goals/objectives to advance the science, engineering, design, and technology for construction of advanced, modular coal conversion plants. The flexibility of modular configurations enables their deployment in a wide range of sites and applications that would not be practicable or cost-effective for a traditional, large-scale coal power plant.

Modular air separation/oxygen production, modular coal conversion/syngas producing reactors, siting, sizing and otherwise tailoring modular plants for market viability, and thorough systems integration of modular plants extend the principle to all aspects of coal conversion and syngas-based plants and systems. With this approach, the program can explore economically viable possibilities of modular gasification/conversion of coal to allow distributed electricity generation, fuels and chemicals production, or polygeneration. Modular or smaller-scale implementations would reduce capital investment, allow access to niche markets, and permit flexibility in siting to take advantage of local feedstock availability and labor pools. It is expected that reaction intensification, innovative fabrication of reactor components, advanced materials and manufacturing methods, and increasingly sophisticated modeling and simulation will underpin development of modular technology for using coal more efficiently to create more valuable end products from coal and other opportunity feedstocks.

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Technology area contact:

Dave Lyons