NEWS RELEASE                                                                                                    MARCH 2015

Power Plants Need to Think Outside the Box in Dealing with Obsolescence

The semiconductor industry has been reinventing itself continually. Moore’s law predicted that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented and would continue to do so. The opposite is true for coal-fired boiler power plants in the U.S.  Most were built between 1950-1980 and are no more efficient now than when they were installed.  Whereas the Chinese assume an economic life for a coal-fired power plant of 25 years, the U.S. tends to act as if the economic life is 50 years or more.

Most of the blame for this lack of progress falls on the regulators but some is also due to the philosophy of the operators. They have not been able to think outside the box.  The focus has been on power generation rather than supply of useful products.   A common attitude is “we are not a chemical plant and do not want to be in the chemical business.”  The steam plumes emanating from cooling towers and stacks are a combination of wasted heat and water which could be used by co-generating partners.  Power plants should think outside the box and consider a product mix which includes:

  • Electricity
  • Steam
  • Chemicals
  • Building materials
  • Tipping fees for disposal of solid biomass waste from municipal and other sources.

Steam: There is an initiative to reduce coal-fired power plant CO2 emissions by 30 percent over the next several decades. This can be achieved by shutting down 30 percent of the capacity or it can be achieved through cogeneration.  Great Rivers Energy has demonstrated that by building the Blue Flint Ethanol plant on-site and through the new Spiritwood plant that it can achieve the 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases for the combined power and cogeneration sources.

A new hot gas filtration technology produces clean gas at 850oF.  This will reduce parasitic energy for air pollution control and also allow efficient extraction of the heat in the flue gas. Industrial power plants have embraced this new technology but the power industry has not.

Chemicals: Last week McIlvaine observed that two technologies (leaching rare earths from flyash with hydrochloric acid and two-stage scrubbing producing hydrochloric acid and gypsum) can be combined to supply a very economical route for the U.S. to be self-sufficient in rare earth production. Other options include fertilizers such as ammonium sulfate and various forms of sulfur.

Powders:  Many power plants already produce gypsum used in wallboards. However, there are products with higher revenue potential. Finely, ground pure gypsum can replace precipitated calcium carbonate for paper coatings in magazines and other glossy publications.  Rather than produce gypsum, power plants can produce a chemically fixed landfill product which encapsulates toxics and reduces expenditures for wastewater treatment.

Solid waste tipping fees:  New combustion techniques to gasify municipal solid waste offer a way for utilities to generate revenues from tipping fees, reduce coal consumption and reduce NOx by introducing the gasified waste as a reburn fuel above the primary firing zone.  Since air pollution systems on coal-fired power plants must already remove air toxics, there would not be any additional pollution control capital expense.

McIlvaine is presenting these options with a series of initiatives including:

Market reports: FGD World Markets,Utility Mercury Air Reduction Markets, Fossil & Nuclear Power Generation: World Analysis & Forecastand Fabric Filter World Markets