The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has selected nine projects to support the development of advanced technologies that will foster early adoption of small-scale modular coal-gasification. Used for power and other applications, these technologies may open new market opportunities for domestic coal. The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) will manage these nine projects.

The funding opportunity announcement (FOA), Small-Scale Modularization of Gasification Technology Components for Radically Engineering Modular Systems will support the new projects. This FOA will focus on the development of emerging gasification technologies that can be scaled down to modularization to support program goals using the Radically Engineered Modular Systems (REMS) concept.

REMS takes advantage of the concept that cost reductions can be realized through mass production and learning-curve effects in lieu of traditional scale-up. To facilitate mass production without oversaturating market demand, and to enable technology development at lower cost, the unit size of REMS components needs to be quite small and modular. Small, modular units that can be connected are important to obtain end users’ interest.

The selected projects will advance technologies related to gasification as part of FE’s Advanced Energy Systems Program. Advanced energy-conversion systems are designed to enable efficient, low-cost, near-zero emission energy from existing and new fossil fuel power plants. Advances in gasification technology are an important facet of unlocking the full potential of domestic coal resources, which both improve U.S. economic competitiveness and contribute to the protection of the global environment.

Selected projects fall under three areas of interest.

Area of Interest 1—Modularization of Emerging Gasification Technologies

  • Advance Syngas Cleanup for REMS—Research Triangle Institute (Research Triangle Park, NC) aims to address key knowledge gaps (focused on low-sulfur coals, but ultimately applicable to all coals) to develop modular designs for the cleanup of sorbent-based warm syngas. (Sorbents are materials that can absorb or adsorb gases or liquids.) These designs would enable 1–5-MW REMS-based plants to be cost-competitive with large state-of-the-art commercial plants that use abundant domestic coal reserves. With the project’s successful completion, these small-scale modular desulfurization processes may have inherent cost benefits, reduce emissions, and improve thermal efficiencies.

DOE Funding: $1,598,983

  • Small-Scale Engineered High Flexibility GasifierSouthern Research Institute (Birmingham, AL) intends to develop a novel, cost-effective, radically engineered modular gasifier. This gasifier would have applications to 1–5-MW energy-conversion systems, such as combined heat and power (CHP). The pressurized oxygen-blown gasifier will use a simple, small-scale modular design and will produce negligible amounts of tar. The gasifier will also be highly flexible to optimize fuel throughput and thermal efficiency; manipulate coal conversion; and produce syngas of a desired composition. The project, if successful, may reduce the cost of coal conversion via an optimized, factory-built modular system to allow scale-up via modular expansion and deployment at remote sites.

DOE Funding: $1,699,965

  • Staged OMB for Modular Gasifier/BurnerThe University of Kentucky Research Foundation (Lexington, KY) will test a staged-OMB (opposed multi-burners) gasifier for a scaled-down version of a commercial gasification technology that utilizes coal slurry as a feed for high-temperature gasification. This project has the potential for small-scale modularization with standardized burners. It would enhance a viable technology that may (1) better realize the full potential of abundant fossil energy resources, such as coal, in an environmentally sound and secure manner; (2) achieve modularized gasification in lieu of commercial experience at low risk; and (3) satisfy the interests of end users at low cost.

DOE Funding: $1,612,308

Area of Interest 2—Modularization of Advanced Air Separation Technologies

  • Radically Engineered Modular Air Separation System Using Tailored Oxygen SorbentsNorth Carolina State University (Raleigh, NC) will develop and demonstrate a radically engineered modular air separation unit (REM-ASU) for small-scale coal gasifiers. Compared to state-of-the-art separation technologies, the REM-ASU will have reduced capital costs and energy consumption.  A successful  project may result in (1) advanced oxygen sorbents with greater than 2 weight percent oxygen capacity and high activity; (2) robust, steam-resistant oxygen sorbents with high-equilibrium oxygen partial pressure to allow effective oxygen generation without a vacuum desorption step; (3) a tailored oxygen sorbent and modular ASU that can be readily integrated with 1–5 MW modular coal gasification system that reduces energy consumption by more than 30 percent compared to state-of-the-art ASUs; and (4) demonstration of the sorbent and REM-ASU system to validate its robustness and performance.

DOE Funding: $2,051,495

  • Pilot Testing of a Modular Oxygen Production System Using O2 Binding AdsorbentsResearch Triangle Institute (Research Triangle Park, NC) aims to design, fabricate, and test a 10–20 kg/day modular oxygen (O2) production system. Producing O2 using the proposed binding materials should cost (depending on the O2 capacity) 30–40 percent less than cryogenic distillation. The technology could reduce the cost of air separation and, therefore, the cost of products from all oxygen-intensive industries. 

DOE Funding: $3,000,000

  • Advanced Sorbents for Modular Oxygen Production for REMS GasifiersThermosolv, LLC (Laramie, WY) will develop advanced oxygen sorbents that fully utilize the high-oxygen storage capacity of perovskites (calcium titanium oxide minerals) and scale up their manufacture to 80–250 kg per batch. Developing composite sorbent pellets to efficiently and fully utilize the high adsorption capacity of perovskites could be an advancement in modular air separation technology.

DOE Funding: $1,571,031

  • Modularization of Ceramic Hollow Fiber Membrane Technology for Air SeparationThe University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC) plans to develop a membrane stack and module for air separation and oxygen production by scaling up a previously developed innovative technology involving an intermediate-temperature ceramic hollow fiber membrane. The technology is then incorporated into a REMS-gasification skid and supports the oxidant feed of an oxygen-blown REMS gasifier scaled to various ranges. Overall, successful development of this technology may improve performance, reliability, and scale-up flexibility, as well as reduce capital and operating costs. These improvements could have broader impacts on the development of high-performance and durable air-separation technologies for oxygen-intensive industries. 

DOE Funding: $1,540,168

Area of Interest 3—Small Field Pilot FEED Study

  • Making Coal Relevant for Small Scale Applications: Modular Gasification for Syngas/Engine CHP Applications in Challenging EnvironmentsThe University of Alaska Fairbanks (Fairbanks, AK) is seeking to provide detailed engineering, design, and analysis to prepare a Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED) for a modular, air-blown fixed-bed gasifier with gas cleanup; the gasifier would provide clean syngas to an existing diesel engine generator. This FEED study would develop capital and operating-cost estimates to examine the potential for small-scale, modular, coal gasification units, coupled with diesel infrastructure. These units could reduce fuel costs for operating conventional small-scale power generation by firing the diesel electric generators with coal-derived syngas.

DOE Funding: $1,543,701

  • Gasification CHP from Coal Fines— The University of Kentucky Research Foundation (Lexington, KY) aims to complete a FEED study for a 5-MW-electrical-equivalent polygenerating unit located in Hazard, eastern Kentucky, using waste coal fines and biomass (sawdust from the lumber industry) as feedstocks. This project, if successful, may help develop a cross-industry synergy in a rural, remote area that could serve as a model for future economic development in depressed regions.

DOE Funding $1,595,106

The Office of Fossil Energy funds research and development projects to reduce the risk and cost of advanced fossil energy technologies and further the sustainable use of the Nation’s fossil resources. To learn more about the programs within the Office of Fossil Energy, visit the Office of Fossil Energy website or sign up for FE news announcements. More information about the National Energy Technology Laboratory is available on the NETL website.