Memorandum from Kenneth J Fergusson, President,
Combustion Engineering Association
I am writing in a personal capacity, as President
of the Combustion Engineering Association, and formerly Chief
Executive of the Coal Authority. In 2001 and 2002, I acted as
a consultant to DTI on matters to do with cleaner coal technology,
and especially the comparison between advanced coal combustion
processes (ultra-supercritical and oxyfuel) and gasification processes
(IGCC) for future power generation. In 2002, I attended the IChemE
European Gasification Conference in Noordwijk, NL, and then the
US Gasification Technologies Council annual meeting in San Francisco,
and prepared a synopsis on each. These were published as DTI reports.
It is, in my view, essential for coal to continue
to play a major part in the UK energy mix for decades to come,
for reasons of security and cost. This argument, and support for
the various processes, is being widely and convincingly expressed
by many voices and, other than saying that I welcome this, it
is not the main purpose of this letter to add to that debate.
What I wish to do is to draw attention to the
current lack of progress on the development in UK of underground
coal gasification (UCG). It seems to have become an orphan, with
no one speaking up in its support.
In the 1970's, when I was in charge of the Technical
Services Group of RTZ in London, we were aware, from our oil and
gas exploration with Hamilton Bros, of the massive amounts of
coal beneath the N. Sea, and were tantalised by how this energy
resource might be tapped. Amongst the ideas considered was in-situ
gasification. We concluded that this was the most promising technique
and that, one day, it should become feasible, but that we were
far ahead of the game, and the work was shelved.
In 1997, I was recruited to the Coal Authority
(CA) as Chief Executive, and became aware of the European trial
of UCG at Teruel in Spain, in which UK was a participant. My Director
of Licensing, Keith Leighfield, suggested to me that we in the
CA should propose a follow-on, "semi-commercial" trial
in UK. From my memories of our work in RTZ, I was keen on this
and, over the period 1998-99, we obtained agreement from DTI and
funding of £15 million over five years. Keith retired in
1999 but I continued to be evangelical on the case for UCG and
delivered several lectures on the subject (ultimately the 50th
Robens Coal Science lecture for BCURA in October 2001, just after
my own retirement from the CA).
An excellent start had been made, over more
than a year, with the ongoing work on UCG. We held an international
conference in London in January 2000, and UK was seen to be adopting
a vigorous role in developing the process. We had several visits
by overseas delegations to CA HQ in Mansfield, including a delegation
Then, without warning, we met a major obstacle,
with the unsolicited opinion given by our QC that the project,
being of the nature of promotion of the use of coal, was outside
the statutory powers of the CA. He had formed this opinion, on
reading about the work on UCG in our Annual Report. He advised
that, as Chief Executive, I must stop expenditure on it immediately,
as this was ultra vires. I took this advice with great frustration,
the funding was returned to DTI, and our staff and consultants
were transferred into DTI (or rather, to ETSU, now FES, at Harwell).
The essence of our development programme still
continued through these arrangements, but funding and ambitions
were cut back to a series of desk studies, with no commitment
to proceed to a semi-commercial demonstration. With my own retirement
from the CA in July 2001, it is fair to say that the project lost
its main protagonist. I had no direct part in the continuing work,
although I was aware of progress, from occasional chance contacts
with, in particular, the UCG consultant, Dr Michael Green, whom
we had engaged in 1999, when his work as Project Manager for the
UCG trial in Spain was completed.
By mid 2003, the various studies were nearing
completion, and DTI decided to prepare a report, to sum up and
publicise the status of the work. An advisory committee was formed,
which I was invited to join, the first meeting being on 30 July,
2003. In the following months, we reviewed the reports on the
individual study areas and, early in 2004, moved on to the preparation
of the draft report, the final version of which was agreed at
the ultimate meeting of the committee on 27 April 2004.
DTI REPORT: "REVIEW
In October, 2004, with no further reference
to the advisory committee, the report was published, (DTI/Pub
URN 04/1643) but with one vital deletion. In the final draft,
dated 20 April, there had been an Appendix 5, "Development
Plan for UCG Development in the UK". (No doubt the repetition
of "development" in this title would have been edited
out.) It set out the topics, costs and timescales of the work
which should be done over the next five years, to bring the process
to a point where its viability could be judged by potential interested
parties in the private sector. Without this appendix, and government
support for the cost (of the order of £000,000's per year
until a trial was to commence), it is unlikely that the work will
proceed further in UK. I do not know the reasons for the deletion
of this appendix, but it is extremely regrettable. Possibly it
was seen as encouraging the ongoing use of coal for power supplies,
and threatening to undermine the case for more renewables.
The DTI document: "A Strategy for Developing
Carbon Abatement Technologies for Fossil Fuels Use", DTI/Pub
URN 05/944, published in June 2005, has a brief section, 6.5,
on UCG. It mentions in the first sentence that ". . . the
Cleaner Fossil Fuels Programme included an assessment of UCG".
Alone in all the other references in this report to specific pieces
of work, it does not cite the DTI report on UCG! Surely
the reader should have been given the reference DTI Pub URN 04/1643?
Further down, section 6.5 says: "This Strategy does not consider
UCG as a specific CAT option to be pursued . . ." Why
not? It cites other technologies such as usc pf and oxyfuel
power stations as CAT's, which have limited potential national
benefit, compared to the major contribution which successful development
of UCG could make to achieving the national clean energy targets.
I raised the case for UCG during the consultation on the CAT Strategy,
and was told that it would be included. However, when the CAT
paper was published, it, too, was lukewarm; I raised the above
two points, but received no reply.
FOR UCG DEVELOPMENT
All of the conclusions of the report support
the case for the UK, in possession of a vast unmineable coal resource,
amounting to tens of billions of tons, or centuries of our TOTAL
national energy demand, to continue to evaluate UCG, as the most
likely means currently in sight to tap this domestic energy resource.
China is engaged in such work, having contracted Michael Green
as a consultant.
Under UK conditions, it is predicted that UCG
can produce power below the cost from imported LNG. Atmospheric
environmental standards can match IGCC. CO2 can be
captured from the synthesis gas at least cost, with the options
of injecting into porous strata, or back into the combusted coal
seams. This also puts the potential of UCG ahead of power generation
from developed pf coal fired processes (ultra-supercritical or
(1) After the excellent progress over six
years, no significant work on UCG is now underway in Britain.
(2) On the basis of the published report,
and without dedicated government funding and active encouragement,
it is unlikely that a private sector sponsor will take the initiative
of proposing an ongoing programme.
(3) It would help, even at this point one
year after publication of the report, if the deleted Appendix
on the way ahead could be made public. This would allow potentially
interested parties to judge the case for work to resume.
(4) The natural party for leading a resumption
of work might be the Coal Authority. The legal obstacles to their
playing such a role are still extant, but could be removed.
(5) The legal and regulatory framework within
which UCG could operate under estuarine or coastal waters, and
later offshore, in conjunction with CCS, needs to be the subject
of attention now. This can only be done by the government.
(6) UCG with CCS is predicted to be able
to make a major contribution to UK energy resources, carbon-neutral,
with no foreign exchange penalty, at a price below the long-run
cost of imported LNG.
(7) With this enormous potential national
benefit, it is not, in my view, acceptable for government to adopt
a so-called "neutral" approach and do nothing until
an outside expression of interest has been received.
(8) The contention that the government is
not in the business of "picking winners" is not tenable
when, in the same month as the UCG report was published, and funding
stopped, it was announced that £40 million or so was being
made available to encourage development work on wave and tidal
schemes, which can, at best, make only a minute contribution to
energy supplies, in comparison to UCG.
I have no "angle" on the promotion
of UCG other than concern, in the national interest, with trying
to bring the issue to wider public awareness and trying to get
the stalled development programme re-started.
I hope that this letter will be helpful to the
Committee in its deliberations and that the subject of UCG will,
at least, receive a positive mention in its findings.