Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

Not-really-clean-coal for Victoria.

with 6 comments

Just two days before the Garnaut report on climate change is handed down, the Victorian Government has given the go-ahead to a new brown-coal power station in Latrobe Valley.

Environmental campaigners said it was “complete madness” to approve the $750 million plant, but the Government said the station would use new technology that would slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The project is a joint venture between consortium HRL and Chinese power giant Harbin Power, and will receive funding of $100 million from the Federal Government and $50 million from the Victorian Government.

“The $750 million HRL plant will use technology which has been developed right here in Victoria and is part of the new generation of clean coal power stations designed to slash greenhouse gas emissions,” said the Energy Minister, Peter Batchelor.

“The project uses a process called integrated drying gasification combined cycle (IDGCC) which can reduce emissions of CO2 from brown coal-fired power generation by 30 per cent and reduce water consumption by 50 per cent, compared to current best practice for brown coal power generation in the Latrobe Valley.”

Robert over at Larvatus Prodeo actually reported on this at length last year, when the project was first announced, and there’s a good body of details of the project and discussion to refer to there.

Typical generators burning Victorian brown coal generate 1175 g CO2e per kWh of electricity generated.

The IDGCC plant will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30% – so, that’s about 823 g CO2e/kWh.

For a good supercritical black coal burning plant you’ve got about 863 gCO2e, and 751 g for natural gas, or 577 g for combined cycle natural gas – which is about the absolute lowest you’ll get for a fossil fuel.

The carbon dioxide emissions are still high as all hell. It’s basically the same as a black coal fired power plant – in absolutely no way is it low in greenhouse gas emissions. All that the IDGCC technology is really accomplishing is to turn a plant powered by brown coal – the most especially inefficient and carbon dioxide intensive form of coal – into the emissions equivalent of a more conventional black coal fired plant. Make no mistake – the entirety of that dangerous fossil fuel waste is being discharged straight into the environment, as per business as usual.

But there’s one aspect to this which I find interesting, in particular.

This plant is slated to cost 750 million (Australian) dollars, and will have a nameplate capacity of 400 MW.
That is; $1875 per kilowatt of nameplate capacity.

The US nuclear energy industry is aiming to build new nuclear power plants for a cost of $1500 to $2000 per kW capacity.

The General Electric ABWR was the first third generation power plant approved. The first two ABWR’s were commissioned in Japan in 1996 and 1997. These took just over 3 years to construct and were completed on budget. Their construction costs were around $2000 per KW.

Westinghouse claims that the AP1000 power reactor will cost $1400 per KW for the first reactor and fall to as low as $1000 per KW for subsequent reactors.

I don’t know what kind of capacity factor is to be expected from an IDGCC plant – but at best, it’s comparable to that of nuclear power. If the capacity factor is significantly less, then this decreases the economic competitiveness of the coal plant relative to nuclear power still further.

We’re looking at the construction of a coal-fired power station that is not mitigating its carbon dioxide emissions in any meaningful way, emitting about 823 g CO2e/kWh straight into the atmosphere, along with all kinds of other dangerous coal byproducts, where the construction of a new nuclear power plant is already likely to be directly competitive, if not superior, on construction cost terms, even in the absence of any kind of emissions trading scheme, carbon dioxide ‘price’, carbon dioxide capture and storage or carbon dioxide sequestration.

What’s up with that?


Written by Luke Weston

July 3, 2008 at 4:52 am

6 Responses

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  1. A friend of mine just emailed me one of your articles from a while back. I read that one a few more. Really enjoy your blog. Thanks

    Josh Maxwell

    July 3, 2008 at 5:00 am

  2. Good post Luke!


    July 3, 2008 at 11:56 am

  3. Well.. Good old Kevin Rudd being completely true to his word – totally not hypocritical in any sense! It seeems like every citizen with half a brain can see this is stupid, besides the new government; although I’m not talking them up and saying they have at least half a brain. The Victorian is no better. I don’t see WHY we need more power at the moment, anyway. It’s so easy to fork out hundreds of millions of dollars for a power station, but not for something like the Health system, so it seems. It’ll just be something else for us to be taxed on; “This energy is a whole like.. 30% cleaner than previous brown coal energy, it took more technology and labor to make it – you pay 5% extra on your bills, NOW!”. IDGCC my ass. Screw Labor. Nice to see a lot of people who voted for them up in arms over this, was it not a given that they’d be total failures?


    July 4, 2008 at 2:04 am

  4. *The Victorian government*


    July 4, 2008 at 2:05 am

  5. What I find absolutely amazing is how the anti nuclear power fanatics say the a large 2000MW nameplate capacity baseload nuclear plant is far and away more expensive than a coal fired plant of equivalent size. Let’s look at the costs, and what I’ll do is to compare the Nuclear plant with this one in Victoria which will only be one fifth of the power capacity.
    The cost of the nuclear plant is all at the front end and is expanded by the actual cost of the money itself. Let’s say $3.5 Billion, and here I’ll go worst case scenario. It will take 7 years to construct so that cost effectively doubles. They actually say that the cost of decomissioning the plant is the same as for what it costs at the front end, so add another $3.5 Billion. Cost of the rods and ceramicised pellets around 500 million, realising that even if the cost of the yellowcake was to increase by a factor of 5 times, the pellets themselves will only increase in cost by less than 5% so that cost for the rods should stay static. So what we are looking at is around $11 Billion. The plant can be licensed for fifty years to run at 95% capacity day and night, and then probably be relicensed for a further 25 years at a pinch.
    This figure is so far and away totally unaffordable that to even suggest it would be stupid.

    So, here we have an el cheapo anthracite burning dirty coal fired plant. It’s going to cost $750 million. Lets pretend that we can actually separate the hot flue gas. Lets pretend we can then separate out the CO2 element. lets pretend we can liquify it, lets pretend we can then pipe it through as yet unconstructred pipelines to undiscovered geo sequestration areas and then lets pretend we can sink it into the ground so it stays there for all time. All this pie in the sky will double the original cost they tell us. So now we’re looking at a cost of $1.5 Billion. Now you see why they are proposing this coal fired plant. They’re just so much cheaper.
    Oh! Sorry. I forgot the coal. Silly me. Let’s see now. A 400MW coal fired plant burns on average 3000 tons of coal per day. At the current price of $120 per ton for the same 50 years and let’s not extend it shall we, just the routine 50 years.
    3000 tons X 365 days X 50 years X $120 per ton. Equals a tick under $7 Billion dollars. added to the original 1.5 Billion makes just under $9 Billion.
    Here I talked worst case scenario for the nuclear plant and best case scenario for the coal fired plant. Compares pretty favourably to me considering the Nuclear plant provides five times the power.
    And we worry that nuclear is the expensive option.

    Sorry to take up so much space.



    July 7, 2008 at 3:23 pm

  6. Don’t apologise Tony – that’s a great post. Coal isn’t free, let alone the hazardous coal waste.

    Luke Weston

    July 8, 2008 at 4:35 am

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