This Sunday, the Syracuse Post-Standard (my hometown paper) ran a huge spread on a potential development close to the City of Syracuse. This latest project would build a "huge energy plant" in the form of coal gasification. The plant would be built on an abandoned quarry on the outskirts of the city, and would cost $1.3 billion - no subsidies required, according to the developer.
It is an ambitious project to say the least. I was pleased to hear that the plant would produce natural gas that could be directly supplied to homes, and not used to produce electricity. Upstate NY is blessed with a wealth of hydroelectric power, is home to three nuclear power plants, and the largest wind farm in NY. As natural gas supplies domestically continue to fall, and the Canadians unable to make up the slack, natural gas for home heating will become more and more precious, and therefore more important than increasing the local electricity production.
If his ambitious proposal succeeds, the plant would be one of the first of its type in the country. It would produce enough natural gas to supply 16 percent of all residential use in New York.Coal gasification is an old process, but it's sparking new commercial interest and technological innovation thanks to the high cost of natural gas and the nation's problematic dependence on foreign oil.
Victor, who is based in New York City, said the gas produced at his facility would be cheaper than natural gas from wells and would provide the energy equivalent of 30,000 barrels a day of crude oil.
ORNL, which is located near the Cumberland Mountains of East Tennessee (a demonstration pilot plant)
No doubt there will be opposition to such a project. "Clean coal" still produces vast amounts of waste that would have to be transported out of the area, or buried as landfill on site. We already know the devastating effects of mountain top removal coal mining. Tremendous amounts of CO2 will be produced by the process. The facility will be located within miles of a waste-to-energy facility, so air quality in the area will suffer further.
Each day, a freight train would bring in 100 rail cars of coal - 10,000 tons - from Pennsylvania or West Virginia. The coal would be unloaded in an enclosed structure, during daylight hours, to minimize noise and dust.In my college years, I might have even been out there myself, protesting the building of such an environmental monstrosity in our neighborhood. Maybe up until two years ago, I might have opposed the project as an affront to the upstate ecology. Today, I must confess I feel much differently about the situation. The peaking production of natural gas in North America, is starting to be forecast. The government is trying to build enormous docking facilities for liquefied national gas (LNG) super tankers to bring in natural gas from the middle east. The ability of millions of Americans to heat their home, living in the colder climates of the country will become less secure. A project like this one, although not perfect, could provide home heating security to Upstate NY during times of diminishing supply.
The coal would be fed into 10 40-foot-high gasifiers, heated to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and mixed with steam and small amounts of oxygen. Without burning the coal, gasifiers break it down chemically into synthesis gas, composed mainly of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Further processes remove sulfur, mercury, carbon dioxide and other impurities.In a process called methanation, the low-calorie syngas would be converted to high-calorie substitute natural gas, methane, that is chemically identical to natural gas from the earth. The methane would be pumped through 18-inch gas mains to an interstate gas pipeline about two miles away.
The slag left over from gasification - about 2,000 tons per day - is glass-like and inert. It can be landfilled or recycled into construction materials, Victor said. Initially, much of the slag would be used as fill at the site, he said
This leads me to my question, will peak oil lead to a reversal of NIMBY-ism?
Would you support a project like this one in your city or hometown? What alternative ways could we heat our homes to limit our dependence on natural gas and heating oil?