Energy, Utility and Environment, 3-5 February, San Diego

Branded by its organisers as the USA’s largest Energy, Utility and Environment Conference, the EUEC2016 was definitely an interesting event to attend.  It took place on 3 – 5 February in sunny San Diego and attracted about 1500 delegates from energy and electric utilities, emission monitoring, consulting, government and regulatory and many more sectors. 

With over 160 exhibits and 400 talks given in 11 parallel sessions, it was a very informative event. Technical topics included Air Policy and Regulations, Energy Policy and Security, Control Technologies, CEMS (Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems) and Air Quality, Mercury Control, Climate and CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage), Operations and Management, Renewable Energy, Water as well as Fleet, Battery and Storage.  The keynote lectures covered: US EPA’s (Janet McCabe) update on its current work/legislation; the US DOE (David Mohler) take on fossil energy and America’s energy security; electric utility solutions for regulatory challenges (Pat Vincent-Collawn); and Armond Cohen’s view on decarbonizing energy, which in his opinion although not easy, can be achieved by employment of a wide range of low carbon technologies and a steady, strategic approach from industry and government. 

With such a vast choice of topics it was hard to decide which talks to attend.  American legislation is somewhat complicated, so I tried to attend a lot of talks related to air and energy policies. These sessions were very popular, so clearly I was not the only one who wanted to learn. The talks were y comprehensive and covered the Clean Power Plan and other rules but as a European I still find the USA’s legislation complex…  

As the US EPA’s legislation to limit mercury emissions from coal-fired power utilities, MATS (Mercury and Air Toxics Standards), was upheld by the US Court of Appeals at the end of last year, the Mercury Control track was popular. It covered both the latest mercury demonstration projects as well as MATS compliance.  Clearly, the USA leads the way on mercury control. 

There has been much discussion recently on CCS being ‘dead’ in the UK; clearly it is not dead in the USA, as shown by both David Mohler’s keynote lecture as well as Ted McMahon’s presentation. Mr McMahon presented an update on the Petra Nova Carbon Capture & Sequestration Project Construction project, which is one of six major CCS demonstration projects co-funded by the US DOE. Petra Nova, in Texas, is an advanced post combustion CO2 capture project with a total cost of approximately $1 billion, of which about $167 million comes from DOE. The project aims to demonstrate the ability of an advanced amine-based CO2 capture system to capture 90 % of the CO2 emitted from a flue gas slipstream equivalent to 240 MW in size. The host power generation unit is not expected to be derated because the power and thermal energy required to operate the CO2 capture and compression system will be provided by a cogeneration plant comprised of a combustion turbine with a heat recovery boiler. The captured CO2 will be compressed and transported through an 80 mile pipeline to an operating oil field where it will be used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and ultimately sequestered. With 60 % of the construction work completed (31/12/2015) the project is scheduled to start its operation later this year.

As evident from other US DOE presentations, there is a clear commitment to continue research on clean energy from coal, as well as coal and biomass to liquids. For example, Tom Tarka from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) presented on the potential to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants by integrating other power generation systems with advanced steam cycles.  The focus of the work was on creating hybrid coal and renewable systems, but a hybrid system integrating a coal plant and a natural gas-fired fuel cell was also evaluated.  

The screening analysis found that integrating solar feed water heating systems with a coal power plant shows promise for near term compliance with the US New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for GHG emissions from coal plants. These systems have been demonstrated at a small scale in the US and use commercially available solar-thermal Rankine cycle power plant components.  The systems, which included the use of molten salt thermal storage, appear to be cost-competitive even in areas with low levels of annual direct radiation, particularly when advanced steam cycles are used.   

Additionally, the integration of wind generation with coal also showed promise, but if electricity storage is required the economics may be more challenging.  It was found that Solar PV did not make as much sense as solar thermal integration at current or projected PV technology levels.  And while thermally integrating fuel cells with coal might show promise in the future, several challenges exist which make that a longer-term option for NSPS compliance. 

Mr Tarka also presented on the potential of coal to liquids (CTL) and coal and biomass to liquids (CBTL) as near-term options for CCS deployment.  While these systems are not economically competitive at the current price of oil, they do have a low incremental cost of CO2 capture ($19 per metric tonne). This is due to the fact that CO2 is already being separated as part of the liquid fuel production process.  

A number of opportunities might make CCS-equipped CTL and CBTL systems more deployable.  The primary opportunity is that CBTL with CCS enables the production of low-carbon transportation fuels at a large production scale.  It seems that few, if any, other opportunities exist to produce such low-carbon fuels, which creates both a market premium and a “Now Term” pathway for governments or entities interested in deploying these systems now.  Other benefits include the ability to leverage varying amounts of biomass depending on availability, while having a secure energy feedstock (coal) as a backup, and that early mover CTL/CBTL systems could help drive down prices of IGCC systems through deployment, given that they produce a higher value product (fuels are higher value than electricity).

A quick look at the next year EUEC conference webpage, confirms that I am not the only one who plans to attend this conference again – most of the exhibits places for next year are already taken.