California commission looks at coal terminal for HECA project

A supplemental environmental analysis written by URS Corp. covering a possible coal handling facility for the Hydrogen Energy California LLC coal gasification project was filed Oct. 9 at the California Energy Commission.

In May 2012, Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) filed an amended application for certification with the commission seeking  approval to construct and operate the HECA Project. The project will use a blend of coal and petroleum coke (petcoke) to produce clean hydrogen fuel. The hydrogen fuel will then be used to produce low carbon electricity and fertilizer.

The coal supply would be railed from New Mexico, probably for one or both of the Lee Ranch and El Segundo surface mines of Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU). The petcoke, about 25% of the feedstock, would be from local refineries.

The project includes two alternative transportation methods for coal delivery.

  • Alternative 1 consists of transporting coal via a new five-mile railroad spur constructed from the existing San Joaquin Valley Railroad to the HECA Project Site.
  • Alternative 2 consists of transporting coal via trucks to the power plant from an existing transloading facility approximately 27 miles northeast of the HECA Project Site, the Wasco Coal Terminal. The Oct. 9 filing covers the Wasco terminal.

The terminal is located in the city of Wasco and has been operating continuously for 23 years. It is capable of transloading up to 1,500,000 tons per year of coal from trains to trucks. Coal is transferred from trains into storage silos, and then independently transferred from the silos into trucks. The existing terminal would be dedicated to serving the HECA Project exclusively, and has sufficient capacity without modifications to meet the needs of the HECA Project.

Coal is delivered to the terminal in an 80-car train along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. The coal train is split into four 20-car segments and set off the main line by the BNSF south of the terminal in queue for unloading.

One potential issue for this option is that the state of California is working on a high-speed rail project that would involve 200-mile-per-hour trains moving between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The route for this line would run near the Wasco facility and local officials are trying to ensure this high-speed rail project doesn’t foreclose use of the Wasco terminal by causing problems with truck access to the terminal.

Commission staff outlines list of outstanding project issues

The commission staff on Oct. 8 filed their tenth update report on the various approvals that the developer is seeking, including approvals outside of the commission.

On June 28, commission staff and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which is offering funding help for the project, published a Preliminary Staff Assessment/Draft Environmental Impact Statement (PSA/DEIS). Staff said it identified significant and unresolved issues in the PSA/DEIS, requiring additional data from the applicant in order for staff to complete its final assessment of project impacts and, where feasible, develop appropriate mitigation measures. The applicant has submitted two sets of data responses in regards to the requested information identified by staff in the PSA/DEIS, and the applicant has indicated that additional information will be submitted by the end of October.

On Sept. 17-19, commission staff and the DOE held workshops in Buttonwillow, Calif., on the PSA/DEIS to receive public comment andwork to resolve outstanding issues with the applicant. The DEIS public comment period ended Oct. 1.

Also, staff said it needs to analyze the components of the project over which the commission does not have jurisdiction, all of which require interagency coordination. They include enhanced oil recovery, CO2 sequestration and monitoring, a CO2 pipeline encroachment permit under the California Aqueduct, railroad crossings and county road improvements.

Project would capture CO2 for enhanced oil recovery

The project proposes to generate between 405 MW and 431 MW gross or an average of 416 MW gross electrical power and between 151 MW to 266 MW net after accounting for onsite auxiliary power loads.

The original application for certification was filed with the California commission in 2008. In 2011, Hydrogen Energy California was acquired from the previous owners by SCS Energy California LLC.

The project would be on a 453 acre site currently used for agriculture. The project site is in an unincorporated portion of Kern County, about seven miles west of the city of Bakersfield. The project would have a 13-mile long natural gas pipeline, 1-mile long potable water pipeline, 2-mile long transmission line interconnecting to a new Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) switching station, an approximately three-mile long CO2 pipeline so the CO2 can be used for enhanced oil recovery and a 15-mile long process water pipeline.

HECA would use an integrated gasification, combined-cycle power system to produce electricity, CO2 and fertilizer. Coal and petroleum coke would be gasified with oxygen (obtained from the air separation unit) to produce synthesis gas (syngas). The syngas would be cleaned via scrubbers and absorbers to filter out chlorides, sulfur, mercury, particulates, and impurities. Lastly, the syngas would be stripped of CO2, leaving a hydrogen-rich gas.

The hydrogen rich gas would either be combined with air and used as fuel in a combustion turbine combined cycle facility to produce electricity or sent to an integrated manufacturing complex to produce over 1 million tons per year of nitrogen-based fertilizer. The project would capture up to 90% of the CO2 in the syngas stream, which would then be piped a little over three miles to the Elk Hills Oil Field for enhanced oil recovery usage.

Some of the captured CO2 and nitrogen from the air separation unit would be used to manufacture urea fertilizer and other nitrogenous compounds.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.