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Fuel cells and carbon capture combine for coal breakthrough

Fuel cells and carbon capture combine for coal breakthrough

Integrating underground coal gasification with hydrogen fuel cells will revolutionise energy generation, predict Linc and AFC Energy.

Australian clean coal technology specialist Linc Energy and British fuel cell firm AFC Energy have signed a major new partnerhip, paving the way for a pioneering demonstration project that the two companies believe could revolutionise the coal industry.

Under the deal, which was signed earlier this month, Linc has been granted exclusive rights to test AFC's fuel cell technology in conjunction with underground coal gasification techniques.

The firms believe that combining underground coal gasification techniques with hydrogen fuel cell technologies will provide a significantly cleaner and cheaper way of generating energy from coal than fitting standard coal-fired power stations with costly CCS systems.

"The future of this concept is simply staggering," said Peter Bond, chief executive of Linc Energy. "It could easily be the ultimate answer for clean coal power many of us are looking for, and it's only one or two years away from reality."

The exclusivity agreement lasts for two years, though Linc can choose to extend it if it invests £2.3m in AFC Energy stock.

Underground coal gasification is an established energy generation technique, which involves burning coal underground to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide that can then be used to power Combined Cycle Gas Turbines.

However, under the plans proposed by Linc Energy and AFC the resulting gases would be mixed with steam to produce carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The hydrogen would then be used to power the AFC fuel cells, while the CO2 will be captured and injected back underground. The fuel cells would then use the hydrogen to produce electricity and heat, with distilled water the only side product from the process.

AFC said that the cells will last 10 to 13 years and can be sited anywhere, adding that for a 1,000MW power station they would produce over 2.5bn litres of clean water a year.

Advocates of the technique argue that it is cheaper and less environmentally damaging than mining, transporting and burning coal in a standard coal-fired power plant and then capturing the carbon emissions afterwards.

A spokesman for AFC said that with over 80 per cent of the cost of planned CCS projects related to capturing the CO2, the new process offered a cheaper alternative whereby the CO2 is already captured and contained, ready for injection.

Linc Energy also argues that underground coal gasification can reach coal fields that would be too expensive to mine traditionally, potentially increasing the world's reserves of accessible coal by up to five times.

The AFC spokesman said that the technology had the potential to revolutionise the coal industry, adding that both E.ON and the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change both had a "watching brief" on the proposed technique.

"The vision is that everyone switches to underground coal gasification using hydrogen fuel cells instead of mining coal," he said. "We think its going to be a step change on a par with the internal combustion engine."

The project could also open up a new market for AFC, which is already planning to deploy its fuel cells to take advantage of hydrogen syngas produced by landfill sites and syngases generated by conventional integrated gasification combined cycle plants, which carry out a similar process to that proposed by Linc Energy, but above the ground.


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