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Combustion Industry News

From the IFRF's correspondent in Australia
From the Sydney office
Contributed by Patrick Lavery
Australia, Thursday 4th January 2018

Competing needs look set to prolong the life of Germany’s coal sector

A Financial Times report has looked at the challenge Germany faces in balancing power generation means with environmental and social concerns. As previously covered in the Combustion Industry News, Germany has a goal of a reduction of 40% in CO2 equivalent emissions from 1990 to 2020, but it is currently on course to reduce emissions by 32% over that time, something of an embarrassment for a country often seen to be leading the push for climate change action and the deployment of renewable energies. As coal burning produces around 30% of the country’s emissions, to meet the target the obvious solution would be to close some of the 148 German coal-fired power plants, which together produce around 40% of its electricity. There are a number of complicating matters, however. Germany is due to close its remaining nuclear power stations by 2022, meaning that the options for reliable generation are limited to coal and (the currently more expensive) gas, and reliable supply is a requirement for Germany’s considerable manufacturing industries, the core of the German economy. Lignite is also the country’s only substantial domestic fuel, meaning coal firing is a strategic interest (until storage technology for renewables improves), and coal mining also accounts for around 20,000 jobs, located mostly in economically weaker areas of the country. On the flipside, some lignite mines are expanding such that they are consuming surrounding villages, as in the case of Pödelwitz, south of Leipzig, where only 28 people now live, many having taken packages offered by the mine to relocate. In all, it is a complex picture but one unlikely to change until a cheap, reliable alternative power supply means - probably via the developmet of storage technology - is sufficiently developed. How long that will take is an open question.

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EU-China carbon capture and storage cooperation agreement goes out with a whimper after more than a decade

The EU Observer website has covered the long and disappointing saga of an agreement for the EU to finance a carbon capture and storage project in China. Back in 2005, as China was set to become the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, and was reluctant to take mitigating action, while the EU was determined to take it, the two political entities established a ‘Partnership on Climate Change’. The goal of the partnership was originally to “develop and demonstrate, in China and the EU, advanced 'zero-emissions' coal technology”, which in a memorandum of understanding in 2007 was further defined as a carbon capture and storage project. This was split into three phases – a conference (which took place in 2009), then a feasibility study (which was to be completed in 2012, at a cost of around €7 million/US$8.4 million), and then construction. For construction, the EU pledged €50 million (US$60 million) of what was estimated to be a total cost of €300-550 million. In 2010, it was hoped that construction could be complete by 2015. What transpired, however, was a contractual dispute lasting a year between 2011-12, and other delays – seemingly concentrated in the EU bureaucracy – that meant that the second phase never properly started. By 2017, the two Chinese companies that were candidates for the feasibility study had decided to fund the projects themselves, and the EU would (understandably) not consider funding projects that already had been funded. The Chinese ministry of science and technology, however, still expected the memorandum of understanding to be adhered to, and wanted the project to continue, but the EU wrote to say that it was "not in a position to maintain the foreseen financial support", but that it would like to reorient cooperation to a dialogue about policy and expertise, suggesting it would provide funding for such dialogue. A project that once had grand dimensions, then, will end with a whimper.

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Tata Steel moves HIsarna steelmaking technology to final testing stage

Tata Steel has progressed a new technology for reducing carbon emissions from steelmaking to its final testing stage, as the Financial Times reports. Known as HIsarna, the technology does not require several conventional pre-processing steps, instead liquefying iron ore in a high-temperature cyclone and then combining the molten ore with powdered coal, thereby reducing energy use and CO2 emissions by at least 20%. Together with carbon capture and storage, Tata envisages a total reduction in CO2 emissions of 80%, which would be revolutionary for the industry. It will not be until 2025 at the earliest, however, that a commercial scale implementation of HIsarna will be in place, and it would cost around €350m (US$420 million), but this is likely to be earlier than any installation of any rival hydrogen-based low-carbon steelmaking process.

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Nature article on psychology of climate change communication concludes research is needed

An article in Nature magazine by three psychologists from the University of Massachusetts - Amherst has critiqued the psychology behind public communication about climate change. A highly pessimistic ‘doom and gloom’ article in New York Magazine in 2017 (the magazine’s most read online article ever) which was both criticised and praised for its psychological affects on readers sparked the critique, which argues that in fact there is little conclusive evidence to argue for hopeful or fear-inducing approaches to communications. However, some things are known. The common assumption of a simple split between hopeful or pessimistic messages that pull simple emotional levers that spur people to action is far too simplistic; the authors stress the complexity of human minds, the variation between them, the importance of context, and the fact that immediate emotional responses to certain information can lead over time to modified behaviours. On this latter point, there is relatively little research, but that which has been done suggests that behaviours may change “drastically” over time, leading the authors to write “communicators and researchers cannot assume that the short-term affective impacts of particular messages are indicative of meaningful behavioural responses, nor can they assume that an immediate emotional response will persist or have consistent effects over time”. The downstream effects are “unknown”, and there is need for more psychological research. There are also misconceptions about the usefulness of certain emotional responses – anger, for instance, is rarely seen as helpful, but the authors write that it can often lead to effective and practical action (rather than, say, violence). Overall, the authors’ view is that “the current evidence base and dominant approaches to studying emotion in climate change communication do not support definitive, simplistic, and overly broad assertions about the effect of specific emotions on climate change responses.” However, they do recommend that communicators try to “meet intended audiences where they are” (i.e. tailor information to specific audiences) rather than attempt to “socially engineer emotional appeals”. The paper may be most useful as a call to action for more research.

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Macedonian government forced to take emergency action after heavy air pollution

Heavy smog in Macedonia has forced the government to take emergency actions to curb air pollution. The winter smog, blamed on a mix of aging, inefficient coal firing, industry and car emissions, reached a point where outdoor sports were banned, travel on trains and buses was made free, and at-risk people were excused from work. The wider Balkans region has five of the ten worst air-polluted cities in Europe, according to the World Health Organisation, and analysis by the Health and Environment Alliance has found that 16 communist era lignite-fired plants produce as much pollution as all of the EU’s 296 power plants combined. With the plants nearing the end of their lives, there are moves afoot to replace them with new, more efficient coal-fired plants, but this faces understandable opposition from those with public health and environmental concerns.

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Eight north-eastern US states take EPA to court over mid-Western air emissions

A coalition of eight north-eastern US states has filed a lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to get it to force other states to impose more stringent air pollution controls. The litigating states - Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont – argue that air emissions from coal-fired power plants in the other states negatively affect their own citizens. They began their action in 2013 by asking the EPA to add the states of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia to the ‘Ozone Transport Region’ which is subject to more stringent air pollution limitations. Earlier this year, however, the EPA rejected the request, leading to the litigation against the EPA itself.

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Vattenfall CEO expects company to be carbon neutral earlier than 2050

State-owned Swedish utility Vattenfall has revised its plan of achieving zero net carbon emissions by 2050, instead saying that it expects to meet the target earlier, perhaps by 2040 or 2045. A number of technical solutions still need to be developed to be able to achieve carbon neutrality, in the view of CEO Magnus Hall, including energy storage. If Vattenfall did manage to achieve its aim before 2050, it is likely to be the first major traditional utility to do so in the world.

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GE’s problems in Pakistan threaten reputation

Reuters has covered the problems that GE has encountered in Pakistan over the last few years, and the political reaction to those problems. In 2015, the company won contracts to supply six of its new highly-efficient 9HA gas turbines for three separate gas-fired power plants, due to come online before the start of summer in 2017. However, the delivery was delayed by one to three months, and after delivery some parts had to be air-lifted to France for modification, such that some of the summer months were missed. When the turbines did begin operation, they delivered power at only around half their rated capacity to begin with, and output rose only moderately afterwards, meaning there was a power shortfall compared to what the country expected, creating political tension for the ruling party. The reaction of politicians appears to have been mixed – the former energy minister believes GE spared no expense to quickly resolve the problems, while a “senior Pakistani official” told Reuters that the problems have cast GE in a bad light in the country. In September of last year, Pakistan awarded new power contracts to Siemens, after GE and other companies bid for the work, a possible sign of discontent. GE will be anxious to assure the wider world that its new turbines are reliable during difficult times for the company, while other gas equipment suppliers will be looking to tap into the Pakistani market, one of high growth with good access to gas supplies.

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Poland’s Energa and Enea receive three bids for construction of Poland’s last new coal-fired unit

There have been three bids to construct a new 1000 MW coal-fired unit at the Ostrołęka power plant in north-east Poland, which the country’s energy minister says will be the last coal-fired unit to be built in Poland. The unit will be owned and operated by Polish state-owned utilities Energa and Enea, who want it operating by 2023. Although it is to be the last newly built coal-fired unit, the Polish government’s plan is to keep the country largely coal reliant (and thereby largely energy self-sufficient) up until mid-century, reducing the current 80% share of coal in the energy sector to 50% by 2050. The three bids came from China Power Engineering Consulting Group (4.85 billion zloty/€1.16 billion/US$1.39 billion), GE/Alstom Power Systems (6.23 billion zloty/€1.49 billion/US$1.79 billion), and a consortium of Polimex-Mostostal and Rafako (9.59 billion zloty/€2.30 billion/US$2.75 billion), which compare interestingly to Energa and Enea’s initial budget of 6 billion zloty and the revised budget of 4.8 billion zloty. A decision is now to be made, possibly after some finances are arranged by the two companies.

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