The Kemper Project and the Future of Energy

Kemper_County_Coal_Gasification_Plant_MS_credit-XTUV0010_creative-commons

          Energy production has been a topic of much controversy not just in the US but also the world. With growing concerns for climate change, there are many divided views on the direction of perhaps one of the most important topics of the 21st century and that is the future of energy. The reasons for such a divide arise from differing interests, where on one side of the spectrum, we have the people who are acknowledging the scientists researching the effects of carbon emitting sources in our atmosphere and the data they have presented thus assessing their views based on the global good, and the other side of the spectrum where the interests lay in the present and factors such as the economy and jobs are the main concerns. Regardless of which side of that spectrum a person’s ideas are, there are a couple of things for certain. There will always be a need for electricity, which is expected to grow, and that electricity will have to come from somewhere.

energy stats

https://www.epa.gov/energy/about-us-electricity-system-and-its-impact-environment

 

Since the beginning of power generation, Coal has been the most important source for providing electricity which has allowed cities, and even nations to develop. As society progressed, we began to realize the detrimental effects of such as source and turned to many other sources that were available to us such as natural gas, nuclear, and renewables as you can see in the figure above. Each has its own upsides and downsides. However, we have slowly been going in the other direction of coal. We can see this locally with some coal plants shutting down and converting to natural gas, such as Yates and Mcdonough. Despite this, about two years ago, I heard about a project Mississippi Power was undertaking involving coal, specifically lignite, and it caught my interest. This project is known as the Kemper County Energy Facility.

The Kemper County Energy Facilility began construction in 2010 in Kemper County, Mississippi with support from the government as part of Obama’s climate plan. It is an IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) 582 MW power plant and is considered the first of its kind at this scale. What this means is that they will be able to take a locally mined, cheap, low quality coal called lignite, and use a process called gasification to convert it to gas and remove the impurities such as sulfur, the result is syngas. This syngas will then be used for the 2 combined cycle units that is on plant site. The layout can be seen in the below 2 images. This process will capture up to 65 % of the CO2.  This process will also substantially decrease sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and mercury emissions. Also they are capturing the chemicals and producing them as a by product such as sulfuric acid and ammonia. The captured CO2, and nitrogen  has many industrial applications as well. The construction of this plant gave a strong economic boost to the region from the construction, mining, and on-site jobs. The facility is also a zero liquid discharge facility, which means that none of the water that is used on plant site will end up in surrounding lakes or rivers.

CP_030113_F1 Kemper_Fig5.jpg

http://www.powermag.com/kemper-county-igcc-project-update/

IGCC-process

https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2017/07/11/the-largest-clean-coal-power-plant-in-america-turns-to-natural-gas/&refURL=https://www.google.com/&referrer=https://www.google.com/

         This project has had many setbacks as anticipated and has almost doubled the original budget. It was originally set to be completed in 2014 for 2.4 billion. This project has now cost an estimated 7.5 billion dollars and that’s with some backing by the Department of Energy.  In July of this year, the Mississippi Public Service Commission stopped financing the project and ordered the coal gasification part of the plant to be stopped and the natural gas combined cycle to continue running. The key factors that affected this decision were reliability, availability, and cost. This decision has put the “clean coal” aspect of this project to rest for the time being. However, Mississippi Power is still assessing their options. At the present, the plant is running both combined cycle units using natural gas that is being piped in.

Looking over the progress and the recent revelations of this project, one can say that it was a failure, and others can say that great strides were made to integrate coal with a clean climate and it still is not over and could be considered as an important component of our nation’s energy strategy.  However, my personal take on the matter is that despite the pros and the appeal for “clean coal”, I still believe mankind will have to look for other clean alternative sources for the future such as renewables and nuclear. Yes, clean coal is cleaner than some options today, but not to the degree that we will need for years to come.

Overall, I still think the Kemper facility is somewhat of an attempt to find some common ground in the energy debate and I find it very interesting for many reasons and I hope to see it someday. What are your views on the Kemper Project and the energy crisis that our generation will play a pivotal role in? Also where do you see the future of clean coal going?

Sources. ( Also if you want to look more into Kemper, check it out. I didn’t want to get to much in detail due to length.)

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2017/07/11/the-largest-clean-coal-power-plant-in-america-turns-to-natural-gas/#2128bc107d26

http://www.power-eng.com/articles/2017/07/mississippi-power-offers-ideas-for-kemper-power-plant-s-future.html

http://www.mississippipower.com/about-energy/plants/kemper-county-energy-facility/

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17 thoughts on “The Kemper Project and the Future of Energy

  1. I generally have mixed feelings about this project. On one hand, I think it is an admirable compromise between the opposing viewpoints. I think carbon capture and sequestration technology is very important for existing coal plants as well, but I do not believe it is a permanent solution. Regardless, coal plants will still have significant carbon emissions. This project seems like a temporary solution for cleaning up coal when I believe the actual solution is the phasing out of coal altogether. Also, this project is estimated to cost around 7.5 billion dollars for just a 582 MW plant. I recognize that a good amount of it is because it has never been done before, but if we can build 2 nuclear units with a 2200 MW total capacity at Vogtle (4 times the capacity of Kemper) for 29 billion dollars (4 times the cost) that produces absolutely no carbon emissions, shouldn’t that be where our efforts are put?

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  2. I can see the debate going both ways, but in my opinion, I believe this is making big strides within technological advances of clean coal. No, clean coal is not the future of our energy source, but with increasing energy consumption, we have to get our power from somewhere. That is coal right now. Nobody like the CO2 emissions that it pumps out, but renewables are not viable enough to sustain our energy consumption. As mentioned, Vogtle is currently building two reactors, but they are having quite a hard time doing it. I think this is a great short term goal until we have our long term solutions figure out. We have a limited supply of natural gas and coal, but if we only use natural gas, we will not be able to sustain ourselves in ~80 years if we have not found another solution making electricity. Cleaner coal is the short term solution until we have a more sustainable, clean energy producer.

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  3. Interesting read! Like others, I appreciate the effort and direction of this project, but I can’t help but feel that it seems a lot of effort and money is going into a ‘short term’ solution when all of this effort and money could be going towards natural gas, nuclear, or renewables. One thing that intrigued me: what is done with the CO2 after it’s captured? Can it be used again in the cycle? All in all I believe that it’s a great effort, I just like the idea of natural gas as short term and nuclear as a long term better.

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  4. The state of Mississippi tried to bridge some of the gap between their more conservative citizens and the future that calls for cleaner energy. Although they could not find a way to make the plant reach its intended design, this can serve as a great lesson to many – clean coal is not the way to go. All that effort and money to end up defaulting to just using a combined cycle plant. If you are going to invest billions of dollars, it may be time to consider investing in the future of power generation in renewables or even nuclear. I think an interesting segue that someone could investigate is how much money we have spent on fossil fuels that were over budget or abandoned before they finished their design life (or altogether).

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  5. I applaud Mississippi and Southern Company for trying to lead the nation for once on energy policy. You need people willing to take an engineering risk and shoot for the moon. The main goal for our hopes in climate policy is simply to reduce Carbon Emissions. Heck, taking 65% of emissions out of coal is better than switching one to a natural gas plant (50% reduction). I’ll take that any day. However, if you can not control costs or even bring the project to completion, many will see it as a failure. In ways, the Kemper Project was a nail into the hopes of Coal in the United States. The Trump Administration can not bring back coal, only economics and environmental policy could. If coal could align with those two forces (as many hoped they would with Clean Coal Technology), then great! But the Kemper project showed that so much of what coal hedged on, was simply too theoretical and not based in an economical reality. Heck, they could have built a nuclear power plant for that money and been completely carbon-neutral.

    I’m just saying…

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  6. Thanks for sharing this Garrett. I was following the progress and debates about Kemper this summer, and I was pretty bummed when the state of MIssissippi pulled the plug on coal gasification, but I understand why they did. This project was extremely over budget and I simply don’t think there was enough to gain to continue pouring money into it. I do think some good strides were made on this project though. A lot of research and development had to take place, and I see technological advances as a very good thing even if it couldn’t all be put together into one working whole. I agree that this might’ve put the nail in the coffin for coal in America, with low natural gas prices and environmental policy being the hammer.

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  7. This is the first time I’ve heard of the Kemper Project and the difference between it and any other coal plant. While I agree with others that this is a great effort by Mississippi and Southern Co to find ways to produce energy from coal in a cleaner and less harmful manner, I cant help but feel frustrated at the latter half of this article. I feel as though the entire project is compromised and its core goal is forfeited when it is not able to be completed and instead it is using natural gas that is piped in. Ive noticed things of this nature in the nuclear plant near my hometown. Due to being over budget and past deadline, the MOX facility that is supposed to process spent plutonium into usable pellets for fuel rods has been given threats by congress and the DOE yearly about being shut down. I wonder if a change in the planning and budgeting process of facilities such as these would affect the decision to keep construction rolling and whether or not these projects would ever see their full completion date.

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  8. Thanks for the article! The way that Kemper ended was a disappointment for a lot of people. I think, if it had worked out, it could have represented a good middle ground for a lot of groups, like coal-producing states, politicians concerned about the energy independence of the US, and people concerned with the environmental impacts of coal. Unfortunately, it turns out that divide was not easily conquered. It seems that we’ll have to find other, more economically feasible ways to power our future.

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  9. I’ve heard about the Kemper Plant, but it wasn’t until I read this article that I actually knew what it was. The idea of cleaner coal is both intriguing and concerning. Clean coal is intriguing as a step towards a domination of renewables in the energy sector much like nuclear; however, similar to nuclear, a “clean” coal solution runs the risk as a solution in the eyes of the public, and those unaware of its continued negative impact. Engineers and scientists have been taking steps in the right direction with clean energy initiatives, but it’s only through continued efforts and research that a true solution can be developed.

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  10. This seems like a good compromise as facilities like this could help keep jobs in WV instead of moving jobs to natural gas suppliers. The CO2 levels from coal could be lower than from Natural gas from this process, and help support the future economy if facilities like this were placed in WV or if it was economically worth it to ship the coal to MS.

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  11. The Kemper project was probably a great idea at the time it was hatched, but since then a lot has changed. The solutions doesn’t reach as far as the creators once thought it would, and it has cost a significant amount of money. That money could have invested elsewhere to possibly develop a better solution. It is really easy to be critical of something from the outside so I would really like to do some more reading up on this to be better informed. Overall, it was a very interesting read that helped to inform me about something I had only heard the name of.

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    1. I appreciate that efforts are being made to make combustion of fossil fuels less impactful on the environment. However, as others have stated, I think the true solution is to begin moving away from fossil fuels, especially coal, entirely. Fossil fuel combustion will always result in CO2 emissions, and carbon capture and storage is insurmountably difficult when the full scope of the capture and storage process is considered, so fossil fuels simply need to be removed from the fuel mix. The alternatives are certainly undeveloped, so in the meantime more efficient fossil fuel combustion cycles will provide incubation time for renewable/nuclear technology to catch up to our increasing energy demand… hopefully.

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  12. I think clean coal is an unreachable goal. Yes you can make coal cleaner but I don’t believe you can ever get it down to safe limits. If we want to keep producing as much energy as we do now, we are going to need to find another energy source. Wind power, tidal power, and solar power are going to be some of the ways we are going to have to start using to generate energy. I believe that the intentions of the Kemper Project are good but there time would be better spent trying to find better alternatives for energy.

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  13. This is a really interesting project and will probably bring way to some good technolgoical doscoveries! If it was sucessful, it might reduce co2 emissions in the short term, although i agree that its definitely not a long term solution to the overall problem of climate change.

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  14. Man, whether this project is a good idea or not, it made me excited to be an engineer. Taking something like coal combustion and trying to change the way it always has gone is quite the venture. That, though, is the beauty of it, I believe. They dared to take a near impossible task, make coal clean, and explore the situation inside and out to find a solution. I looks like they used a range of techniques to create a Rube Goldberg-like facility to do so, but it’s a step. Eventually, as the facility is analyzed by the engineers in charge, I hope they continue to exert the greatest level of thought to postulate ideas and explore the ramifications of them, eventually ending in a system as simple as possible to make coal more manageable for the lowest cost. And we get to do that one day too! Thank for the post Garrett, it has been encouraging.

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  15. I think more strides need to made towards research integrated energy-production systems. The only problem I see with this project is the amount of time (and money) the construction required. I feel like by the time the facility would have been built, more efficient and clean systems would have been discovered.

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  16. This is really interesting! I think what is neat about this project is how they were able to take something that is traditionally thought of as a pollutant and unsustainable resource for generating energy and made it cleaner and a more viable option for more environmentally friendly power generation. In some ways this project is the best of both worlds, it allows all of those who work in the coal industry to keep their jobs and for us to continuing using coal as a cheap resource but greatly decreases the emissions from the process.

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