Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Coal gasification could be a future feedstock option in Singapore

Chemical plants and utilities such as steam and power will benefit from it
Ronnie Lim
Business Times 13 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE is literally leaving no stone unturned in its search for additional strategic feedstocks for the oil refining/petrochemicals industry on Jurong Island.

It is now looking at coal-to-chemicals as another option, and wants to evaluate having a coal gasification plant there to provide syngas feedstocks for chemical plants and utilities such as steam and power.

This latest study by the Economic Development Board - in cooperation with the Energy Market Authority and JTC Corporation - adds to two ongoing feedstock studies looking into the import of LPG or liquefied petroleum gas, and also the use of 'green' feedstock, such as palm oil, sugarcane and plant biomass.

So far, the petrochemical crackers here - operated by Petrochemical Corporation of Singapore, Shell and ExxonMobil - use mainly naphtha, and more recently heavy 'bottoms' such as hydrowax from the refineries to produce the feedstock needed by downstream chemical plants. It is understood that more optimal use of such 'bottoms' is also being looked into.

The studies come under the government's Jurong Island version 2.0 initiative - set to be unveiled mid-year - which focuses on feedstock options and infrastructure developments to create new competitive advantages for the Singapore chemicals sector.

'The latest study will look into coal gasification to produce competitive supply of hydrogen and carbon monoxide feedstock for the chemical plants and also for utilities,' an EDB spokesperson told BT last Friday.

Wikipedia explains that 'coal gasification is the process of producing coal gas, a type of synthetic gas - a mixture of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) gas - from coal.' Coal gas (also known as town gas) can be converted into transportation fuels such as gasoline and diesel through additional treatment.

EDB said that while the main disadvantage of coal is its environmental impact, coal gasification technology provides the potential for a 'clean coal' plant and development of new technologies in carbon capture and use to further diminish the carbon footprint in future.

EDB's tender for a consultant states that 'as there have been prior indications that companies may wish to supplement the feedstock business of a coal gasification plant with power generation, we wish to understand the possible business models that industry may propose given different specifications of feedstock, both feedstock and utilities, as well as what a model that optimises price competitiveness and minimises carbon footprint may entail'.

This suggests that the coal gasification plant project could also interest generating companies here, especially Tuas Power which is already building a $2 billion, coal/biomass-firing multi-utilities complex on Jurong Island.

But environmental sustainability is clearly a top concern in the study.

'The evaluation should also take into account a carbon tax in view of a possible international agreement on carbon mitigation, which could lower the profitability of the plant,' the EDB tender said.

'The study should also make explicit the assumptions that are being used, particularly to achieve the carbon footprint,' it added, specifying that the plant must also meet current NEA standards and cover areas right down to disposal of pollutants.