Skip to comments.First casualty of greenhouse gas rules may be Texas plant
Posted on 07/09/2012 4:48:58 AM PDT by thackney
Developers targeted 2013 to begin operating a new power plant fueled by the carbon-rich leftover from nearby oil refining in Corpus Christi.
The Las Brisas Energy Center will not be ready by then, however, and there are doubts the project will be built at all, making it the latest flash point in a long fight between Texas and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The $3 billion project has stalled as the federal government pushes to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming from new power plants. The first-ever rules are expected to bring an end to the era of coal-burning power generation as energy producers opt for cheap and plentiful natural gas.
The EPAs draft rules require new coal-fired plants to achieve limits that can be met easily by plants fueled by natural gas, which releases about half the carbon dioxide. The rules, known as the New Source Performance Standards, do not cover existing facilities.
The Las Brisas project could be among the first casualties because the plant, as designed, would burn petroleum coke, also known as pet coke, a refinery byproduct that produces about as much carbon dioxide as coal.
The rules, which the EPA proposed in March, act as a moratorium on coal and pet coke plants, said Dave Freysinger, chief executive of Chase Power Development, the Las Brisas projects developer. Given the issues with reliability of electricity in Texas, this is an untenable spot to be.
In the meantime, the Houston-based firm has asked a federal appeals court to block the rules, even before the EPA finalizes them. The company also has joined Texas officials in an attempt to prevent the EPA from issuing construction permits for major sources of greenhouse gases.
Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the legal underpinnings of the EPAs efforts to limit the emissions and allowed the agency to move forward with the rules for coal- and petroleum coke-fired power plants.
Texas maintains the EPA does not have the legal authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act and may appeal to the Supreme Court. The Las Brisas developers, meanwhile, claim the project is fully permitted, if not for the novel regulations.
Las Brisas is trying to thread a needle, said Ilan Levin, an Austin-based environmental attorney who has challenged the project in state court. If they can, there is a path forward without any major design changes to the plant.
Tons of carbon dioxide
Las Brisas, as planned, would be constructed along Corpus Christis inner harbor and burn enough petroleum coke from nearby oil refineries to produce electricity for 850,000 homes.
The power plant would release about 13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to the permit application developers filed with the EPA. The amount would rank it fourth among industrial sources of greenhouse gases in Texas, which leads all states in heat-trapping emissions.
Conventional coal plants cannot meet the proposed standards because the pollution control technology is not ready, according to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
Freysigner, the Chase Power chief executive, said Las Brisas would reduce heat-trapping emissions because the petroleum coke will stay in Corpus Christi rather than be transported to dirtier plants overseas. Environmental groups, however, said the planned facility still would emit too much pollution.
The people who want to build Las Brisas are clearly not very concerned about the impacts of burning pet coke anywhere, said Flavia de la Fuente, an organizer with Sierra Clubs Beyond Coal campaign. The truth is, the Las Brisas plant will emit carbon pollution, as well as mercury, soot and smog pollution, all which will impact a city that has seen more than its fair share of industrial pollution.
The EPA will have the final word on the permit by November.
Even then, the Las Brisas developers claim that the project should not need the permit. The EPA has identified 15 proposed coal plants, including the White Stallion Energy Center in Matagorda County, that would be exempt from the limits as long as construction begins by next April.
Las Brisas is not one of them.
The problem is, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued the air pollution permit for the project three weeks after the EPA began regulating heat-trapping emissions. While the federal agency makes the rules, states implement most of the requirements of the Clean Air Act.
Permit authority seized
Texas has refused to issue permits that cover greenhouse gases, prompting the EPA to seize authority for them. That means developers of large industrial projects in Texas now must apply for air permits from both regulators, adding time to the process.
The EPA has received 30 requests for greenhouse gas permits from Texas, so far, and granted two.
The legal challenges face long odds, so the Las Brisas developers best hope may come from the EPA. Chase Power asked the EPA last month to exclude petroleum coke-fired plants from the regulations, and U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, said the agency should grant the request because of the states need for more electricity.
They are banking on weaker rules when the EPA finalizes them later this year, Levin said. They will need some relief for the plant to be built.
Petroleum coke and the coal industry:
Petroleum coke has made significant inroads into the steam coal industry over the last few years and will continue to do so for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is that petcoke can serve as an excellent, inexpensive product to blend with coal in traditional coal fired boilers, and, in some newer boilers, can even replace coal entirely .
What is it?
Petroleum coke is a byproduct of the Coker refinery process which upgrades fuel oil by heating it and cracking it to higher valued gasoline, jet and diesel components.
How does it compare physically to coal?
Generally there is lower ash (<0.5%), lower moisture (8-10%) and lower Volatiles (8-10%) than steam coal, resulting in a much higher heating value, on the order of 14,000 Btu/lb. There is generally higher sulfur, ranging from about 4 % to 7 %, while the HGI varies from 35 to 75. Most coke produced is fuel grade, meaning it competes with coal. Some coke is very low in Iron, Nickel and Vanadium, thereby achieving a higher value in the aluminum anode industry.
How does fuel grade coke compare economically to coal?
Production costs associated with petcoke are minimal because it is a byproduct of the refining process, and prices are generally determined by the competitive steam coal price. Pricing is also generally discounted to compensate for sulfur, HGI and the extra difficulties of the end user managing both coal and coke inputs. Historical $/ BTU prices of delivered coke vs coal in North West Europe show coke running about 75% of steam coal, but there is a lot of variation.
How do refineries value it?
Because coke is a byproduct and the refinery gets such a boost from the light products from the Coker, refineries would be willing to run the coker even if they had to pay to dispose of it. This could continue until the net income from the light products boost and the petcoke loss, fell well below the value of fuel oil, a point that is reached when coke loss falls below $10/ton at the refinery gate.
How much coke is there and where does it go?
Presently, there is about 60 million tons/yr of coke produced worldwide, most of it located at coastal refineries in North and South America. In a few years it will be close to 70 million tons/yr as new refineries with cokers are being built in the US, Mexico and Venezuela. Since the Americas are generally coal exporters, most of this coke is also exported to the same areas that consume imported steam coal: primarily Japan and Europe.
Who buys coke?
Cement plants and power plants are the 2 greatest consumers of pet coke. There is some limited use as space heating and in commercial brick kilns in Europe, and a small but emerging market for met coal blending component for the steel industry. While the higher sulfur may limit the coke in a coal/petcoke blend in a plant designed for coal, more recently designed Circulating Fluidizd Bed (CFB) boilers can burn 100% high sulfur coke.
it is getting time to take a stand against the tyranny of the left and the zer0 regime.
So...if the coke doesn’t go to the power plant, it will go to export and be burned in the PRC, the Med or possibly Africa.
Yes, burned in places with far less pollution controls.
Were they planning to use the new technology (gasification or something like it) to turn the coke into BTUs ?
Seems like the proposed South Dakota refinery was to incorporate this...
Seems this could be an entrepeneurial opportunity for a workshop inventor. I bet you could sell a whole lot of Carbon scrubbers and make a mint. Let’s hope that American ingenuity prevails.
Pay attention now............
‘CARBON’ is NOT A POLLUTANT!! FORGET THIS BULL$HIT!
Yeah, but what do you do with the carbon after you scrub it?
Same thing with coal plants scheduled to be shut down because of EPA rules: the state is sovereign over its own property.
In California,....it IS....SAYS THE GOVERNOR!