The Future of Gasification
Discussing Key Challenges, Technology Outlook and Stimulating Incentives for the Market
Critics remain sceptical about the commercial future of gasification due to the cost of installation, unproven technologies and lower power yields, however the potential for resource output is far greater. With many new projects going ahead, the World Waste to Energy and Resources Summit in London (April 28-29) will evaluate the business case, challenges and success stories from the industry, with discussions led by Advanced Biofuel Solutions, Amey Waste Treatment and CoGen.
Challenges for Gasification Technology
With aims to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and CO2 emissions, gasification methods come to the fore. Biomass to energy conversions using gasification to produce, heat, hydrogen, ethanol and power have proven successful. Yet the key challenge is to demonstrate the scale and robustness required for the gasification of mixed municipal solid waste.
However, gasification has become synonymous with abandoned projects, bankruptcies and a litany of failures, making funding and provability a significant hurdle. As Andy Cornell, Chief Executive of UK-based Advanced Biofuel Solutions comments: “The commercial challenge is securing the long-term funding to develop gasification technologies against a background of projects that have failed because they moved too quickly.”
Paco Hevia, Managing Director at Amey Waste Treatment, feels that the changing schemes for government support and very few proven technologies, has meant gasification has not had the chance to prove itself. He comments: “With a very limited number of bankable technologies and ROCs only available for a relatively short period of time before being replaced by Contracts for Difference (CfD), a support mechanism for renewables (which did not work for energy from waste schemes), gasification has not had the opportunity to demonstrate its value, carve out its role and evolve from the experience of delivering multiple projects.”
In addition, on the technology front there are issues which take years to pilot and overcome, Cornell adds: “The main technical challenge for waste gasification is finding a reliable method to deal with tar and ash. There are solutions to this challenge, but it takes years to develop them through pilot, demonstration and then commercial operation.”
What is the outlook for gasification technology?
The key question is whether we are likely to see a change in appetite from investors. The resource outputs of the gasification process are likely to increase in value and demand as we aim to decarbonise sectors such as transport. It may be that the potential role for gasification is likely to be focused more on the conversion of specific materials or streams into base products which can be used as fuels or feedstock for processing and manufacturing.
Hevia explains that: “There will be some investment appetite for this sort of opportunity as they will be of a smaller scale and will provide additional value in the effort to de-carbonise the economy. However, technology risk is still an issue and the investment cycle is likely to require a long gestation period.”
And on a more positive note, Cornell says: “The commitments to achieving net zero carbon emissions are leading to more focus on gasification by investors. Pre-combustion capture of carbon dioxide using gasification is the most efficient pathway for generating negative emissions and waste gasification produces low carbon hydrogen far more cost effectively than other methods. The key test for investors is whether there is a bankable technology that can realise these opportunities.”
Isabella Gaupmann, Development Manager, Project Lead Hooton Park at CoGen adds: “We are seeing a wide range of investors becoming interested in this type of infrastructure which provides a stable return in times of turbulent markets.”
We may also be seeing some advances in project development to keep costs down. As each project has specific requirements, it takes a substantial effort to develop a particular design for the first time. Gaupmann shares: “There is an opportunity for synergies which CoGen is creating through a portfolio of projects by replicating the same design and contractual set-up.”
What incentives would help to stimulate the market?
Generating low carbon renewable energy and specifically low carbon heat is essential if the UK is to succeed in successfully making the transition to a low carbon economy, according to Hevia. “Recovering waste heat generated by energy from waste facilities and industrial activities is essential to reducing the country’s carbon emissions and maximise efficiency from existing processes, with housing developers and the industry incentivised to use low carbon heat. Incentives should also be provided for higher value products with a carbon benefit that could be obtained from the gasification of waste like naphtha or hydrogen.”
Gaupmann suggests that tightening restrictions on landfill can be a powerful driver to incentivise infrastructure development. “Long-term support at a commercially viable level is useful to create momentum for less established technologies with alternative outputs other than electricity.”
Investing in the space is imperative and Cornell believes that finance is encouraged by a stable regulatory regime and so incentive structures should only be changed if there is a pressing need. He says: “Support should focus on the benefits that gasification can offer such as better air quality, production of biofuels or carbon capture. In the UK, the development of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation works well but I think the Cfd regime could be more effective if it was more focussed.”
In conclusion, the gasification market remains challenging yet holds huge potential. It has an important role to play in meeting climate change commitments, tackling specific low carbon resource requirements and energy supply challenges. As demand for these outputs increases the government support and therefore funding, should follow giving projects and technologies the chance to prove viability. With some major projects already underway in the UK we may already be seeing the beginnings of an upturn in commitment to the technology.
At the World Waste to Energy and Resources Summit in London, leading experts from Levenseat, Advanced Biofuel Solutions, CoGen, Hatch, Amey Waste Treatment and Klean Industries will discuss new projects and the potential of gasification technology at 14.45 on Tuesday April 28.