Engineering News

Buffalo-area Plant Would Convert Coal, Petcoke Into Natural Gas
Wednesday, August 27, 2008

About a dozen Lackawanna, N.Y., residents got a first glimpse Tuesday of plans for a $1.5 billion plant that would turn coal and petroleum refinery by-products into natural gas.

The project developer, Lackawanna Clean Energy, held the first of a series of informational meetings in the Lackawanna Senior Center, 320 Martin Road. The gasification plant would be built on the long-dormant coke oven section of the former Bethlehem Steel site.

The gas produced by the company would be capable of heating about 400,000 homes a year, and would be sold to large natural gas pipeline companies or utilities such as National Fuel.

"It'll burn the same as natural gas," said Jim Falsetti, chief executive officer of Lackawanna Clean Energy.

"We would make pipeline-quality natural gas, indistinguishable from other gas you normally buy. In that context, it would be exactly the same," Falsetti added.

There is one other such plant in the United States -- in Beulah, N. D. -- that uses a similar technology to convert coal into natural gas, "but they take low-grade coal and turn it into natural gas," Falsetti said.

"We would use more advanced, state-of-the-art technology, commercially proven for gasification," he added.

Falsetti said more than 60 percent to 70 percent of the world's petroleum coke is produced in the U. S., but most of it is shipped overseas to make electricity, cement, ammonia and other chemical products, mostly in China, where it is burned in an environmentally unsound fashion.

"So one of the big issues that people will be concerned about is carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases. And when it's burned in that fashion, it has a far higher greenhouse gas output than what we would have with this process," Falsetti said.

Lackawanna Mayor Norman Polanski Jr., who attended the meeting, is an early booster of the project.

"Is it 'green-green' like everybody wants? No, it isn't, but it is the next best thing," Polanski said.

He and officials of both the Lackawanna School District and Erie County have been negotiating with the developer on a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement. If the hard-core skeptics succeed in the killing the project, he said the developers will merely go to Mexico, India or China, where pollution controls are much more lax.

"We actually will make them conform to our standards. This will be good for Western New York and good for . . . Lackawanna. So I am [a proponent of] this plant here," Polanski said.

Source: The Buffalo News, N.Y.

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