Coal gasification is considered a key technology for the long-term switch to carbochemistry. The greenhouse gas carbon-dioxide will one day be entirely integrated in chemical products and fuels, according to the International Freiberg Conference on IGCC & XtL Technologies (IFC) in Leipzig. May 30, 2012


The future of lignite lies in carbochemistry, claim scientists at the Technical University of Freiberg in Saxony. Lignite, also known as brown coal, is a common natural resource in Germany used for power generation. But electricity generation at large lignite power plants will dramatically decline in the coming decades, freeing up coal for chemical applications, said Rector Bernd Meyer from the sidelines of the International Freiberg Conference on IGCC & XtL Technologies at the end of May in Leipzig. For him the key technology for this conversion is coal gasification. This process begins by using the raw material to produce a syngas, which can then be further processed in various ways at so-called polygeneration plants.

According to Meyer, it is possible for half of the carbon contained in the coal to be used in chemical products. The other half would still be emitted into the environment as carbon dioxide to start with. In the long run, though, he thinks it is conceivable to capture this remaining CO2 as well and use it in energy sources. Renewable hydrogen could serve this purpose, a substance which in the coming decades will most likely be increasingly generated from surplus wind and solar electricity through the process of electrolysis. Hydrogen and CO2, for example, can be used to obtain synthetic methane, which is fed as an energy source into natural-gas lines and stored in underground reservoirs.

The TU Freiberg is currently working with several partners to prepare a demonstration project for polygeneration at the chemical production site of Leuna, near Halle on the Saale. Meyer also thinks it is possible to construct such demonstration plants at existing coal-fired power stations in Lusatia and Rhineland. Existing infrastructure could be used at these locations.

Large-scale plants for carbochemistry are currently being built in China, reported Andrew Minchener from the International Energy Agency’s Clean Coal Centre in London. Among the technology suppliers are German companies such as Siemens and Lurgi. But the plants are increasingly being made domestically. According to Minchener, the Middle Kingdom with its large coal reserves has good chances of developing the technology of carbon capture and storage (CCS), which has largely been thwarted in Europe. Michael L. Jones, vice-president of the U.S.-based Lignite Energy Council, described a current CCS project of the Mississippi Power electric company. The sequestered CO2 from a new lignite power plant in Kemper County is to be injected into oil wells in order to increase output there.

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A more detailed version of this article is available in German. To order an English translation, please use the contact form

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