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Let's Be More Positive About Natural Gas!

There will be ample U.S. natural gas supplies to support a 30 Tcf market by 2010.
Fortnightly Magazine - June 15 2002

315-358 GW in 2020. 7 This seems counter-intuitive in view of growing environmental constraints on power plant emissions announced by the Bush administration.

Over a 20-year horizon (2000-2020), and with the U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, it is probably rational to expect no precipitous decline in coal-fired power generation using the conventional boiler-steam turbine cycle even with the relatively high costs of continually reducing conventional pollutant emissions (sulfur and nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and now also heavy metals) to comply with tightening environmental standards. The prospects for the so-called "clean" coal technologies are less clear. Apparently, the first integrated coal gasificiation/combined-cycle plant without any government funding will be built in Lima, Ohio by Global Energy, even though the investment costs are still as much as three times those of a natural gas-fired combined-cycle plant and the higher heating value basis efficiencies are 42 percent to 45 percent, compared to about 54 percent for gas-fired combined-cycle plants. The lower fuel cost (about $1.20/MMBtu for coal vs. $3.00/MMBtu for gas (excluding the recent spike), is unlikely to offset the much higher capital charges and non-fuel O&M costs. There are certainly no environmental advantages of "clean" coal technologies compared to gas. So the rationale for investing in clean coal plants would be concern for long-term supply and price stability of natural gas. The EIA does not project any investments in other than conventional steam-cycle coal plants in its "Annual Energy Outlook 2002" and firmly predicts that the preponderance of new generating capacity will be gas-fired. 7

Thus, in conclusion, we need a much stronger endorsement from industry and government decision- and policy-makers of the premise that natural gas is the logical transition fuel to a sustainable energy system and that North American reserves and recoverable resources, plus LNG imports, can support U.S. gas consumption levels of 35-40 Tcf/year for a decade or two beyond 2020. By then, we should have developed and deployed sufficient high-tech renewable power sources and electrolytic-hydrogen-powered surface transport, and reversed the projected decline in nuclear capacity, to reduce reliance on all fossil fuels. To extend the lead time for a shift to a truly sustainable energy system with minimal environmental impacts, one alternative would be mine-mouth coal gasification plants that produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO 2), remove the CO 2 from the product gas, and then sequester it in suitable geologic formations and the deep oceans. 9 However, the cost of this option may be prohibitive.

Henry R. Linden is the Max McGraw Professor of Energy and Power Engineering and Management, and the Director, Energy + Power Center, at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

  1. Linden, Henry R., "Fossil Fuels and Energy Policy: Understanding the New Natural Gas Economy," , Vol. 138, No. 21, pp. 56-63, November 15, 2000.
  2. "U.S. Crude Oil, Natural Gas, and Natural Gas Liquids Reserves 2000 Annual Report," Energy Information Administration, December 2001, Document No. DOE/EIA-0216(2000).
  3. "Monthly Energy Review, March 2002" Energy Information Administration, Document No. DOE/EIA-0035(2002/03).
  4. N Vol. 18, No. 13, p. 4 (April 1, 2002).
  5. "Natural Gas Meeting the Challenges of the Nation's