Syngas (from synthesis gas [SNG]) is the name given to a gas mixture that contains varying amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and very often some carbon dioxide, to use for energy. Examples of production methods include the gasification of coal, as well as steam reforming of natural gas or liquid hydrocarbons to produce hydrogen, biomass, and in some types of waste-to-energy gasification facilities. It typically has less than half the energy density of natural gas.
Coal gasification involves the conversion of coal into electricity, hydrogen, and other energy products. Gasification is a thermo-chemical process that breaks down coal - or virtually any carbon-based source - into its basic chemical constituents. In a modern gasifier, coal is typically exposed to steam and carefully controlled amounts of air or oxygen under high temperatures and pressures. Under these conditions, molecules in coal break apart, initiating chemical reactions that produce a mixture of carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and other gaseous compounds such as carbon dioxide.
Coal gasification electric power plants are now operating commercially in the United States and in other nations, and the U.S. Department of Energy states that "many experts predict that coal gasification will be at the heart of future generations of clean coal technology plants", such as Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plants.
Coal companies argue the benefits of gasification stem from the capability to achieve lower sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and particulate emissions than conventional coal burning, increased fuel efficiency, and carbon dioxide emissions that are potentially easier to trap and store than conventional coal burning plants, should carbon capture and storage technologies prove feasible.
Although potentially lowering the amount of some pollutants, the health and environmental problems with coal plants remain, such as the coal waste byproducts of coal mining and burning (toxins and pollutants from coal waste, coal ash, and coal sludge), the environmentally destructive effects of coal mining, particularly mountaintop removal, and increased carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of human-influenced global warming.
GE Energy pushes coal gasification and exports to China
In September 2011 Keith White, director of GE Energy’s coal gasification business stated, "We make a majority of our money in China today. They use their coal for quality high-end products." White said that leaders in Wyoming should continue their support of coal-gasification and keep in mind the need to expand to additional markets like plastics and other refined products. He noted that a high volume of coal in China is refined into liquid byproducts "such as naphtha, and other products that are the feedstock of plastics and the Chinese garment industry."
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Related SourceWatch articles
- Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC)
- Clean Coal
- Carbon capture and storage
- Proposed Synfuels Plants in the United States
- Underground Coal Gasification
- Beychok, M.R., Process and environmental technology for producing SNG and liquid fuels, U.S. EPA report EPA-660/2-75-011, May 1975.
- "Gasification Technology R&D" U.S. DOE, accessed April 2010.
- Bryan Walsh,"Exposing the Myth of Clean Coal Power" Time Magazine, Jan. 10, 2009.
- [http://wyofile.com/2011/09/ge-wyoming-coal-could-be-converted-to-shirts/ "GE: Wyoming coal could be converted to shirts" Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile, September 16, 2011.
- Daniel C. Cicero, "Coal-to-Liquids in the United States, Status and Roadmap," National Energy Technology Laboratory, June 23-24, 2008