Mingo liquid coal plant: What about the carbon dioxide?

October 28, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.

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TransGas Development proposes to build a $3 billion coal-to-liquids fuel plant at Mingo County’s new energy park near Gilbert.

The Associates Press put out an un-bylined story yesterday about the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s plans to issue an air pollution permit for the proposed TransGas Development liquid coal plant in Mingo County.

AP had an unfortunate quote from Randy Harris, the project director for the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, which is trying to promote the project:

This proves that clean coal can be done.

Well, I read through the draft permit and WVDEP’s engineering evaluation on the agency’s Web site.  And nowhere in there does it say anything at all about this plant capturing and sequestering its carbon dioxide emissions …

Joe Kessler, an engineer at WVDEP’s Division of Air Quality, told me TransGas does plan to recycle about 25 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions back into the plant. But, according to Kessler, the company is still estimated to release about 3.6 million tons of CO2 every year into the atmosphere. And John Benedict, WVDEP’s director of air quality, told me:

It emits a fair amount of CO2.

Of course, West Virginia has no limits on CO2 emissions. And Congress is still debating what — if any — limits it’s going to put on this heat-trapping gas. So naturally, the WVDEP’s proposed permit for TransGas doesn’t include any such limits.

Gov. Joe Manchin has made liquid coal a cornerstone of his energy plan for the state, calling for a series of such facilities around West Virginia. When TransGas announced its project — at a Manchin-sponsored energy forum last December — company president Adam Victor was a bit coy about the plant’s potential emissions. As I reported at the time:

Victor told reporters the plant would be a “near-zero emissions facility,” that would capture sulfur, mercury and other “regulated pollutants” before they go out a stack.

TransGas also plans to capture carbon dioxide emissions, but does not have a concrete plan for disposing of the gas that is most responsible for global warming.

“Whatever the permitting process tells us to do is what we’ll do,” Victor said, while conceding that federal and state laws place no limits on carbon dioxide emissions to the air.

Victor said his firm hopes to persuade the federal government to grant it a right of way to send carbon dioxide emissions through interstate pipelines to the Texas coast, where it could be pumped underground to help force out more oil and gas, and to be safely sequestered.

As best I can tell, there’s nothing about any of that pipeline stuff in the plans submitted to WVDEP. I left Victor a message today, but he hasn’t called me back.

The point here is that all this talk about this facility being “clean coal” ignores the fact that — as most energy experts know — liquid coal produces twice as much greenhouse gas as regular old petroleum fuels, unless the plants that convert coal to liquid capture their carbon dioxide emissions.

As a Rand Corp. study said last year in a report on liquid coal and oil sands:

Since major investments in coal-to-liquids become more likely if environmentally sound carbon capture and storage can be commercialized at relatively low cost, the future expansion of this fuel source will be strongly influenced by future private sector and government initiatives to support such commercialization. However, even with carbon capture and storage deployed, neither alternative fuel offers a path toward large long-term reductions in total carbon dioxide emissions to limit climate change. There will still be a need to develop lower-carbon fuel options, such as fuel synthesized from a mixture of coal and sustainably grown biomass.

Still, most of West Virginia’s political leaders — including Manchin and Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller — have praised this Mingo County project. They like the 1,200 construction jobs and 350 full-time positions TransGas promises to create in a part of our state that desperately needs an economic boost.

But even the U.S. Air Force — once a big promoter of liquid coal — has stopped pursuing this technology, as Deron Lovaas of the Natural Resources Defense Council recently explained:

The decision was a long time in the making as the technology’s deep inherent flaws came under increasing scrutiny. Environmentally, these fuels are disastrous, emitting nearly double the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions as conventional fuels. Thus, commercializing liquid coal would stymie our efforts to mitigate global warming.

But isn’t liquid coal — as Gov. Manchin says — good for homeland security, making our country more energy independent and secure? Not so much:

… Global warming has drawn the attention of military planners, veterans and security experts because of its profound impacts on national security. Climate change, they agree, will intensify resource competition, humanitarian crises, and tension in the world’s most volatile regions. The National Intelligence Council notes that the “demands for potential humanitarian responses may significantly tax U.S. military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture and decreased strategic depth for combat operations.” Given the bleak outlook, it is easy to see why the Air Force would abandon a self defeating fuel technology that makes global warming worse. And it is highly reassuring to know that our leaders in the armed services are making the right decisions on energy policy.  By dropping liquid coal, the Air Force can fully focus on sustainable energy resources that mitigate the security risks of climate change.

16 Responses to “Mingo liquid coal plant: What about the carbon dioxide?”

  1. Red Desert says:

    The language in Waxman-Markey was changed to allow coal-fired plants with “initial” permits to avoid complying with new CO2 performance standards. (They would still fall under cap and trade.)

    http://solveclimate.com/blog/20090716/43-new-coal-plants-would-escape-climate-bill-co2-standards

    Interesting question: Would that also apply to this coal to liquids plant? And if the cost of carbon remains low, with plenty of cheap offsets to buy, there is little incentive to install CCS and plenty of incentive to get a permit filed.

  2. […] Blogs @ The Charleston Gazette – » Mingo liquid coal plant: What about the carbon dioxide? blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2009/10/28/mingo-liquid-coal-plant-what-about-the-carbon-dioxide – view page – cached TransGas Development proposes to build a $3 billion coal-to-liquids fuel plant at Mingo County’s new energy park near Gilbert. — From the page […]

  3. Mingo County parent says:

    This comment “Whatever the permitting process tells us to do is what we’ll do,” Victor said, while conceding that federal and state laws place no limits on carbon dioxide emissions to the air…” reminds me very much of the response I received when I inquired how this plant would control the BTX emissions that are discharefed from the one in Sasol. I was told that there has never been a plant in the US so there was no guide lines to address BTX’s.

  4. RealisticHillbilly says:

    Ken,

    CO2 is not a regulated emission. You may not like that, but that is the way it is. DEP has no authority to consider it so how can you take them to task for not doing so.

    Your dated quotes taken out of context are typical of what we have come to expect from your reporting. The Rand study, you said you have read, contradicts itself multiple times…you however only use the parts YOU LIKE.

    Your reporting is typically anti-coal, anti-timber, anti-chemical and we can only assume from you lackadaisical fact checking anti-truth. It appears that only form of employment that is acceptable in WV to you is reporting, so please do that profession the service of following its traditions.

    ” Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.” (http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp)

  5. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    RealisticHillBilly,

    On the contrary, my post on this specifically explained that:

    Of course, West Virginia has no limits on CO2 emissions. And Congress is still debating what — if any — limits it’s going to put on this heat-trapping gas. So naturally, the WVDEP’s proposed permit for TransGas doesn’t include any such limits.

    And nowhere in that post do I “take DEP to task.” Please point to the language that you feel does that.

    What I’m simply pointing out is that the Manchin administration, while promoting a facility like this, is ignoring the very real consequences of its carbon footprint.

    I’m not sure that is exactly courageous, but I also think it is honest and fair.

    Ken.

  6. RealisticHillbilly says:

    BXT stands for benzene, toluene and xylene (BTX) which is valued at over $1,000 per ton by chemical processing facilities.

    Benzene is a raw material for production of phenol, malic acid, caprolactam, alkylbenzene, styrene, and dye stuff intermediates.

    Toluene (Methylbenzene) is a Solvent for paint and rubber, and Raw material for toluene di-isocyanate, benzoic acid, and dye stuff intermediate.

    Xylene is solvent for paint and insecticide, and raw material for paraxylene, orthoxylene, and ethylbenzene.

    The amounts generated at Sasol that are referenced would dwarf any amounts produced by the proposed plant. The Sasol complex covers several square miles and includes over two dozen gasifiers larger than any of those proposed in Mingo.

    To compare the projects shows a considerable lack of understanding of the technologies involved since the methanol to gasoline process being used in Mingo is significantly different than that used by Sasol. If you are going to try to scare people at least check your facts somewhere other than the anti-coal web sites.

  7. RealisticHillbilly says:

    Legally, and that is all they can do, legally the State can not take CO2 into consideration. Can they?

  8. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    RealisticHillBilly,

    If you’re responding to Mingo County parent, I don’t believe that reader said anything about where they got their information — so it’s unfair and incorrect for you to suggest they got their information from an “anti-coal website.”

    And if you have data on the Sasol facility referred to, please provide a link to that data.

    This isn’t going to turn into a forum for you to just attack people you disagree with.

    You are free to disagree, but please don’t be disagreeable.

    Ken.

  9. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Realistic HillBilly,

    State law gives the WVDEP air quality director very broad authority to limit emissions that he or she believes may be dangerous. However, a separate state law also prohibits any limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

    BUT, if Gov. Manchin wants to promote these sorts of facilities, perhaps it would be prudent for him to propose a change in state law and a set of rules to require liquid coal facilities to capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions.

    Ken.

  10. RealisticHillbilly says:

    Ok so now I know your rules. Its ok for you to take things out of context but not others. Thats fine. I will not bother you any more.

  11. Mingo County parent says:

    I was simply commenting on the similarities in responses and not trying to generate fear. But, am I afraid, yes I am. In short as a parent of a child who would be attending the new central high school close to this proposed plant, my mind was made up when the agents at the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority could not answer my question about any potential of BTX’s, my child will never attend that school.

    Do I know it will emit BTX’s – no, but I don’t know that it will not either.

    Still, I think it was a fair question since little is known about the process on the layman’s level, thus one would think the people designing it should be able to answer the questions.

    I attempted to locate the initial articles that propmpted my question, but was only able to locate one:

    United States Environmental Protection Agency: Final Report. Environmental Footprints and Costs of Coal-Based Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle and Pulverized Coal Technologies. July 2006

    I do know the original report I read on BTX’s and related illnesses associated with Sasol was produced either by Boston College or Boston University, but I can’t locate and since my mind is set I am not devoting any more time trying to locate it. However, for anyone interested in searching for the document perhaps these newspaper excepts will help.

    South Africa
    Black SA community takes control of its air

    This past September Sasol itself worked with Leeds University in Britain to take more air quality samples. These tests also revealed the presence of potentially harmful chemicals, including toluene and benzene. Low to moderate levels of exposure to toluene can cause memory loss, hearing loss and nausea, while repeated exposure to high levels of the chemical can cause permanent brain damage…

    Sasol, one of South Africa’s largest industrial company with operations on every continent, says that Groundwork is exaggerating the threat of air pollution in the area. The company says the levels of all of the chemicals detected in the air in Zamdela, except for benzene, were found to be lower than the recommended guidelines recognised by most industrialised nations….

    Sasol acknowledges that four of the samples taken revealed benzene levels that exceeded US guidelines. “Benzene remains the focus of attention by Sasol and (more than one million dollars) is presently being spent to reduce these levels further,” says a recent statement released by Sasol.

    http://www.afrol.com/News2001/sa018_air_pollution.htm

  12. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Mingo County parent,

    If you haven’t looked at the draft permit or the engineering evaluation that I linked to in my post, you should.

    The engineering evaluation, on page 17, http://www.wvdep.org/show_blob.cfm?ID=18290&Name=Eval%202791.pdf lists the emissions from this proposed plant.

    Ken.

  13. Nanette says:

    OK, I read the link that you provided Ken, but there is one question that I have about the waste being hauled out of that site.

    [ The gasification process shall produce, as waste products, ash, filter cake (accumulated fines
    collected in baghouses), and slag. Ash and slag are belted (BC7) from the plant to a fully enclosed storage pile (SSP). From the pile, the waste material is reclaimed by an underground conveyer
    (BC8) and another conveyer (BC9) to a partially enclosed dump bin (SB) where the material is
    loaded on trucks for transport over a paved haulroad out of the facility. Filter cake is belted (BC10)
    directly from the plant into a silo (FCS1) where it is then loaded into trucks for transport over a
    paved haulroad out of the facility. The maximum amount of ash/slag handled by the processing
    equipment shall be 100 tons per hour (TPH) and 604,440 tons per year (TPY). The ash/slag storage
    pile has maximum capacity of about 200,000 tons. The maximum amount of filter cake handled by
    the processing equipment shall be 100 tons per hour (TPH) and 61,320 tons per year (TPY). ]

    Ok, where out of that facility are they going to store this waste? I believe that we are dealing with the results of too much waste being dumped from coal use now.

  14. […] I’ve written before: … This plant as proposed does nothing to address the increased greenhouse gas emissions […]

  15. […] didn’t bother to mention that this project has no plans on capturing its carbon dioxide emissions, meaning it’s going to essentially double the CO2 that would created by just using plain old […]

  16. […] As we’ve discussed on Coal Tattoo before, coal-to-liquids technology will generate twice the greenhouse gas emissions of standard gasoline, unless the production plants are equipped with carbon capture technology — which the Trans-Gas facility isn’t. […]

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