During Chinese President Hu Jintao’s recent visit to Washington, our stories on GE’s deals in aviation, rail and energy focused on how the agreements are helping China meet its infrastructure needs in sustainable ways while creating and supporting U.S. jobs, generating growth for GE, and providing unprecedented access to Chinese markets and technologies.
One of the deals is the coal gasification joint venture that’s been formed between GE and Shenhua Group to sell and develop gasification technology and advance the deployment of “cleaner coal” solutions in China. Tied to that effort is GE’s 1,400-person strong China Technology Center in Shanghai, which has been tapping into the country’s homegrown scientific talent since it was launched in 2000.
We checked in with GE’s Shanghai lab, which recently ran a post about the China team’s cleaner coal work on the lab’s new Chinese language blog.
Over 70 percent of China’s power supply is generated by burning coal, which is why the lab is looking at ways to optimize what’s known as “integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology.” In an IGCC plant, coal is heated to high temperature to create a synthesis gas or syngas, which is then processed to remove many emissions. An extra set of technologies also cool the gas, with the resulting steam used to power a turbine and produce additional electricity (that’s the “combined cycle” part).
Although the technology is in use at some power plants, research teams are looking for ways to bring down the cost and improve efficiency. One critical area of R&D for the Shanghai lab involves the first step of the gasification process itself — preparing a coal water slurry. If the concentration of coal in the slurry can be increased, the efficiency goes up, too.
The scientists at the “Coal Poly-generation Laboratory” in the Shanghai lab are tackling it from two directions. “The first method is particle size distribution; that is, to mix the coal of different particle sizes for the preparation of a coal slurry,” they write. The idea is to find new ways to let small coal particles enter the void between large coal particles. By mixing the particles at a certain percentage, the slurry becomes more concentrated.
The second route involves experimenting with additives that can change the viscosity of coal water slurry — so that it remains fluid, even with a relatively high concentration of coal.
The scientists are also figuring out ways to address the wide variation in coal quality around the world, as it’s “impossible for a low ranking coal of poor quality to produce a coal water slurry at high concentration.” The Shanghai team developed what they call a “dry powder transmission” technology for lower quality coal. It essentially grinds coal into coal powder and then transmits it into the gasification furnace under high pressure.
Brain power: The joint venture between GE Energy and Shenhua Group Corporation to develop coal gasification technologies in China is one of the keys to commercial-scale deployment of cleaner coal solutions. The collaboration is expected to generate more than $150 million in revenues over five years and $100 million of U.S. exports in services, R&D and licensing. It will also support job creation in the United States and China, including hundreds of jobs in Houston, Greenville, SC; and Schenectady, NY.
* Read an English translation of the full blog post
* See a video explaining how the cleaner coal technology is working at the Polk Power Station in Tampa, Fla. in our story: “A cleaner path to coal: The ABCs of IGCC technology”
* Learn about a new IGCC plant in California and one in Indiana.
* See a recent photo contest held at our lab in China