Combustion Industry NewsFrom the IFRF's correspondent in Australia
From the Sydney office
Contributed by Patrick Lavery
Australia, Monday 4th September 2017
A thoughtful opinion piece in Bloomberg has looked at historical power demand and supply in the US, identifying some major trends in recent decades and predicting future ones. Biomass (in the form of wood) was the chief fuel in the US between 1780 and 1880, when it was overtaken by coal (due to industrialisation and locomotive demand), which held the reigns until almost 1950, at which time oil became number one (with the rapid spread of internal combustion engine-equipped motor vehicles), a spot it still enjoys today, with gas in second. In the twentieth century as a whole demand for energy increased decade on decade (and demand for each fuel usually increased in each decade), as new uses were found for different fuels and existing uses expanded. This growth in total energy demand reversed in the first decade of this century, with total demand contracting due to deindustrialisation and rising energy efficiency, a trend which has continued in the 2010s. Because of the shrinking total demand, there has been more competition between fuels to obtain market share, with gas and renewables taking much of the share of coal, and coal now eyeing the possibility of taking some share of oil’s role in supplying motor vehicles with energy with the rise of electric vehicles. Increased efficiencies and higher expectations for clean energy are set to continue and increase competition between fuels, with US demand expected to remain flat at best and growth in the OECD as a whole expected to be only 1% or so year on year. This will lead to energy producers to increasingly target growing markets such as China and India, and for producers to diversify into cleaner energy. The article concludes that the game for energy suppliers will be “optimise, baby, optimise”.
The first UK fracking operation in six years has begun at a site near Blackpool, Lancashire, the first since reports of earth tremors in the vicinity of fracking in 2011 led to a moratorium on the practice. According to the British Geological Survey, around 1,300 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is trapped underground in the north-west of England, Yorkshire and East Midlands, although recent work by the chief scientist of Heriot-Watt University has questioned that estimate. The UK government is hopeful that the North American shale revolution will be able to be repeated, albeit at smaller scale, in the UK, and it is true that if fracking became successful and widespread, it would have a major influence on the combustion industry in the UK and across Europe. The use of fracking in the UK faces considerable community opposition, which will play an important role in the future of the industry if the gas can be produced economically.
In an update to the recent story about US and Russian competition over supplying gas to Europe, Lithuania last month became the first ex-Soviet state to take a shipment of LNG from the US. [This excludes Poland, which has taken shipments, but was not officially part of the Soviet Union.] Lithuania has been importing LNG from Norway for a number of years, but the shipment from US has a more strategic dimension, considering the US’s desire to take some of Gazprom’s European market share. The export, from Cheniere Energy’s LNG terminal on the Gulf Coast of the US, was described as being price competitive with Russia gas by Lithuania’s energy minister, Zygimantas Vaiciunas, although recent coverage has suggested this would not be the case.
An opinion piece by Shelley Goldberg published by Bloomberg has looked at various reasons to be optimistic about the future of carbon capture and storage, amid recent setbacks to the industry, including the Kemper project and the withdrawal of both Engie and Uniper from the ROAD CCS project in the Netherlands. The article points to start-ups such as Global Thermostat, Climeworks, Carbon Engineering, and CO2 Solutions innovating to “make CCS both operable and profitable”, by variously utilising waste heat and enzymes to capture carbon and by finding novel ways to use CO2 and capture it from air. Concurrently, international oil and gas companies such as Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil are pursuing CCS projects. Finally, the important role that CCS must play if the world is to meet its Paris Agreement targets is another reason for optimism – necessity will force its development. Ms Goldberg finishes by recommending private investment in the technology.
UK gas distribution company Cadent (formerly National Grid Distribution) is planning to trial a scheme to provide hydrogen to industrial and residential customers in the Liverpool and Manchester areas of England. If the plan was to go ahead, residential customers would have their natural gas blended with hydrogen such that the lighter gas makes up a fifth (assumedly by volume) of the supply, while industrial customers such as oil refineries and chemicals manufacturers would receive pure hydrogen. The trial – which would commence in the next decade – would be a step in trying to decarbonise the UK, with Cadent engineering director David Parkin saying switching to hydrogen is the most cost-effective and least disruptive way to do so, with so many homes already having gas facilities installed. Mr Parkin also described hydrogen as being advantageous because of customers’ “strong emotional attachment” to gas. On the residential side, to fully switch to hydrogen would require replacement of existing facilities, something that is somewhat easier for the industrial sector because of the limited number of boilers. The hydrogen would be made from natural gas by steam reforming, with Cadent to capture the carbon monoxide and dioxide produced and storing it in the Hamilton gas field in the Irish Sea. The move would be an highly interesting one for the combustion community.
The US Department of Energy has given US$4.8 million (€4.1 million) to a further five research projects to develop novel uses of CO2 captured at coal-fired power plants. The five projects join an existing seven announced in February this year, with Michigan State University, the University of Illinois, Rice University, the University of Michigan, RTI International, the University of Kentucky Research Foundation, the University of California, the University of Delaware, the Gas Technology Institute, TDA Research and Southern Research all receiving funds. The projects are split into three categories: using carbon dioxide in biological applications (such as growing algae); mineralisation of CO2 with industrial wastes (such as in concrete products); and chemical uses of CO2 to make by-products (such as alcohol or acids). With much recent speculation regarding the US government’s confusing mix of rhetoric and policy support for the fossil fuel-firing sector, the new funding appears to show more actual policy support.
Japan’s ITOCHU Corporation has won an engineering, procurement and construction contract from Indonesia’s state-owned power utility, PLN, for a 200 MW coal-fired unit to expand the existing Kalselteng-2 power station in the South Kalimantan Province of Indonesia. The project will be carried out in conjunction with Hyundai Engineering and Indonesia’s PT. Truba Jaya Engineering, and the contract is worth around US$400 million (€340 million), with construction expected to be complete by 2020. IHI Corporation will be the source of the boilers, while Fuji Electric will supply the steam turbine generators. The plant will contribute to Indonesia’s plan to add 35 GW of power generation capacity by 2019 to meet electricity demand which is growing at around 9% per annum.
Polish utility Energa is planning to build a 1 GW coal-fired power plant near OstroÅ‚Ä™ka, in northeast Poland. The company is hoping that the Polish government will pass, as it intends to, legislation to compensate power companies for providing available capacity, which will give the plant a sound economic footing. However, Energa has already decided to build the plant, which suggests they are confident the government will pass the legislation. The move to build a large new coal-fired plant is somewhat against trend in Europe, but Poland has long been highly coal reliant, and moreover would resist a shift to gas with Russia being the dominant supplier.
Total is to buy the oil exploration and production assets of Danish conglomerate AP Moller-Maersk, which are valued at US$7.45 billion (€6.34 billion). Total will pay for Maersk Oil through shares, giving AP Moller-Maersk a 3.75% stake in the French oil company, and allowing the Danish company to focus more on transport and logistics. For Total, it will increase its portfolio in geopolitically stable areas (most of the assets are in the North Sea), giving more balance to the overall portfolio, which currently tends more towards more unstable areas. Total made a higher than expected profit in the second quarter of the calendar year, giving it an appetite for acquisitions.
India’s state-owned power equipment manufacturer, BHEL, has won supply contracts to clients in Chile and Estonia, as the company moves to further expand internationally, according to the Economic Times of India. While the two most recent countries were buying transmission equipment, BHEL also supplies power generation equipment, with recent client countries being Bangladesh and Tanzania, and it appears BHEL wants to rival the Chinese firms that are increasingly winning international contracts for supply and construction of power generation capacity.
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