March 18, 2015

Polygeneration and coal

By Chris Erickson

The shifting landscape of energy and politics has long been a subject of campaigns, policies, and discussions. The main subject has been how the energy industry can function in sync with the local environment, and do so while providing for electrical needs and long-term careers.
With an eye toward the future, the Energy and Environmental Research Center is aiming to do just that through many different research topics, including polygeneration. The research center hasn’t only just been looking at ways to root out further emissions, but to increase efficiency in energy and in doing so, create new opportunities for energy generation.
John Harju, associate director for research at the EERC, oversees the technical groups and aims to match EERC expertise with industry goals. The aim? To provide collaborative solutions to the changing needs of industry.

While it would decline slightly in the process of polygeneration, lignite would still be utilized extensively.
“In a polygeneration system, while coal would be the primary fuel, depending on the availability, any available biomass could be fed in as a secondary feedstock. In our region, primary biomass candidates could include agricultural residues or switch grass or a similar cover crop grown in ditches or on unfarmed lands,” Harju said. “Typically, 85-100 percent of the feedstock would be coal, with the amount of biomass used dependent upon its availability.”
The research center’s decades of history provide it with a substantial foundation to move forward with studies, proposals, and solutions to meet the ends of their research  -- polygeneration or otherwise. The end focus is to keep industry moving forward to supply the energy the country needs, all while keeping an eye toward environmental factors.
As with the EERC’s work on the Plains CO2 Reduction Partnership, Harju stated that the work on polygeneration could help control certain emitted gases. He added that the center’s work on the subject had been developing throughout the center’s 60-year history.
“Coal and electricity production are a large part of our state’s economy, especially when combined with agriculture and oil and gas activities,” Harju said. “Polygeneration can take synergistic advantage of these activities in any number of ways. Polygeneration can include generation of coal-fired electricity and heat to meet the growing demand from the oil and gas and agriculture industries while co-producing fertilizers, fuels, hydrogen for refining, petroleum additives, and other chemicals for regional industry.”
Partnered with the EERC are a “comprehensive suite” of players through the coal, utility, oil and gas companies, state agencies, federal energy department, and technology companies. The staff of researchers was every bit as extensive.

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