A WORLD-FIRST coal project announced today could make Teesside a clean energy front runner - and revolutionise the UK’s energy security.
B9 Coal at Wilton will combine underground coal gasification (UCG) with leading-edge fuel cell technology to power a massive 500 megawatt station.
Rio Tinto Alcan’s plant at Lynemouth, Northumberland, has been earmarked as a potential site.
But the project could also strengthen a bid for a £2m Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) network on Teesside that would pipe harmful from the area’s biggest industrial polluters to natural voids beneath the North Sea.
A Teesside network would become more viable by providing a storage outlet for the produced by B9 Coal’s project. Under UK Government policy, carbon capture and storage technology is required for a power project if UCG is used for power generation.
UCG also produces pure hydrogen, which can be passed through a fuel cell, converting to electricity at 60% efficiency, with a projected cost per kilowatt hour as low as 4p.
B9 Coal is planning to submit its project for a Government CCS UK demonstration competition, which will lever billions of pounds of funding for four schemes.
B9 Coal is bringing together a major consortium, including Australian-based Linc Energy - the world’s largest UCG specialist, WSP Group, AFC Energy and a major industrial gas supplier.
Alisa Murphy, director at B9 Coal, said UCG has the potential to give the UK access to an extra 17bn tonnes - some 300 years’ worth - of untapped coal.
“This project can take coal from being the dirtiest fossil fuel to the cleanest,” she said. “It has major implications for energy security as it provides a way for the UK to use its own resource.
“UCG does away with the damaging effects of traditional mining, it’s low-cost and efficient. The creation of a commercially viable fuel cell is an essential part of the project.
“The Government is talking about showing global leadership in the CCS competition, a world-leading template - we believe we have that.
“This hasn’t been done anywhere in the world, it’s game-changing in terms of clean power.
“The way to get CCS adopted globally is by making it commercially attractive - UCG is a key way of doing that.
“A project like this is a fantastic opportunity in terms of job generation, it will put the North-east at the forefront of low-carbon innovation.”
The project, which bosses hope will be operational by 2015, is also being supported by the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) and Wilton’s Renew.
John Barton, projects director, said B9’s plans were “very exciting” with the potential to unlock coal reserves and make the UK’s energy supplies secure for a considerable length of time.
And bringing together both coal gasification and fuel cell technology would put the region at the forefront of clean energy generation.
“UCG is becoming more widely used, but bringing this together with fuel cell technology would be a world-first,” said Mr Barton.
He said the project also strengthened the region’s bid to drive forward CCS development in the North-east.
“When you put all the pieces together of the work being done in the region it offers a very compelling case,” he added.