NEWS RELEASE                                                                                                         NOVEMBER 2012 

Strategically Located Energy Complexes are the Greenest Option Affordable

Energy complexes that burn a combination of coal and biomass, provide waste heat to other manufacturing within the complex, and capture CO2 to use for enhanced oil recovery are the greenest option. Furthermore, they are affordable and practical. This is the conclusion reached in the McIlvaine report, Fossil & Nuclear Power Generation: World Analysis & Forecast.

This conclusion is based on the following facts:

  • Coal has to be a bridge fuel for at least the next 40 years
  • Cogeneration doubles the efficiency of coal-firing
  • Coal combustion is the most economical way to provide CO2 for enhanced oil recovery
  • New coal-fired power plants with only a 25 year life can replace old coal-fired power plants economically
  • Methane has one hundred times the global warming effect of CO2 in the first 25 years

Renewables at best are carbon neutral. A holistic concept combining co-generation, enhanced oil recovery, biomass co-combustion and ultrasupercritical boilers can result in a net reduction in greenhouse gases, the avoidance of other pollutants escaping to the atmosphere and a net gain in water.

The world will be spending $300 billion per year to construct new coal-fired power plants. The question is where will they be built? Presently, the U.S. consumption of coal is down, but exports are way up. China has been and will install as much coal-fired capacity as exists in the U.S. every six years. India, Vietnam, Indonesia and other Asian countries are also building many power plants.

Logic and economics may or may not prevail. Global warming is just what the title indicates. It is-- global. If the U.S. solves its CO2 emission problems by shipping coal to China, it only transfers the emission source. As long as the U.S. keeps buying goods which require energy to manufacture, China will keep building new coal-fired power plants.

At the rate coal is being consumed, it will not be a major source of greenhouse gas emissions seventy-five years from now. Likewise, the supply of other fossil fuels will diminish rapidly over the next seven decades. So we need to look at the allocation of these resources with both a focus on the short-term and long-term impact on the world economy and the environment.

There are some significant inconsistencies in some of the analyses. For example, the short-term warming impact of methane is very high compared to CO2. However, methane converts to CO2 over a period of time. Most of the decision models use a one hundred year comparison of the relative harm and conclude that methane is only twenty-nine times more harmful than CO2. But if the focus is on the short-term rather than long-term impacts, then this ratio needs to be increased.

Global Warming Impact in Tons of CO2 Equivalent in 25 Year Increments for One Ton of Emissions


Year 1-25

Year 26-50

Year 51-75

Year 76-100














In the first 25 years, the warming impact of methane is one hundred thirteen times greater than CO2. The methane losses from unconventional gas exploration, production and transport have not been fully quantified. There is general agreement that they are at least two percent. This still makes gas relatively greener than conventional coal. However, there are some experts who claim that losses are closer to four percent which would make even conventional coal competitive. In any case, there is a big advantage for clean coal over the first 25 years.

Forward looking utility companies such as Great Rivers Energy are building efficient complexes. The Coal Creek power plant not only generates power but all the energy needed for a co-located ethanol plant. The Spiritwood plant which is just being restarted also has a number of efficient ways to utilize excess heat resulting in efficiencies that are nearly double older stand-alone power plants.

New studies show that if coal-fired power plants were built in areas where there is a need for enhanced oil recovery there would be a use for all the CO2 generated by all the world’s coal-fired power plants. Furthermore, new technology for condensing moisture from the power plant discharge gases would actually create water. Therefore a power plant burning 20 percent biomass and 80 percent coal and also sequestering the CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, would actually reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere and emit no pollutants; it would also create, rather than use, water.

Relative Emissions of Pollutants in Tons of CO2 Equivalent


Separate   and Old


Integrated   and New with Carbon Sequestration

Integrated   and New Without

Carbon   Sequestration

Coal-fired   Boiler




Steam   Assisted Enhanced Oil Recovery




Co-generation   Facility such as Cellulosic Ethanol




Biomass   in Normal Cycle




Total   Impact




1 ton of SO2 = 100 tons of equivalent CO2, 1 ton of Mercury = 1 million tons of CO2

If oxycombustion is used, all the flue gases are CO2 so there are no atmospheric emissions. The CO2 is used to recover oil. No credit is taken for the fact that additional energy would be required to recover oil from a new source. The Blue Flint ethanol plant of Great Rivers Energy does not have a dedicated boiler, so its emissions are negligible. If it were using the cellulosic rather than the corn based ethanol process, it would also generate waste biomass which could be combusted in the coal-fired boiler.

In general, biomass is neutral. Plants absorb CO2 as they grow and release it again when they decay. The substitution for coal in the integrated systems causes the biomass carbon to be sequestered.

There are many older coal-fired boilers in the U.S. and other countries which cannot practically produce CO2 for enhanced oil recovery.  However, rather than just operate them as is for the next 25 years before retirement, it will be highly desirable to convert them to energy complexes including district heating.  The Martin Drake power plant near downtown Colorado Springs is typical of such plants. It is centrally located where the waste heat can be economically used. The elimination of the cooling tower would also be an aesthetic benefit.  It is already investing in very efficient SO2 scrubber systems provided by Neumann Systems.  The conversion of older plants to energy complexes can reduce the total harm in tons of CO2 equivalent to just 27 percent (31/115) of the present emissions. This is the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions and should be a high priority.

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