In an effort to prove that coal can be part of the greenhouse gas (GHG) solution instead of part of the problem, Dominion said late last week that its Brayton Point Power Station in New England will become the site of a large-scale demonstration project designed to convert biomass, coal and petroleum coke into separate streams of natural gas and carbon dioxide.

The Richmond, VA-based energy giant said the project could be an important step toward cost-effectively ensuring the nation's energy supply and ultimately helping coal-fired power stations deal with the GHG issue.

Cambridge, MA-based GreatPoint Energy has agreed to construct the demonstration facility and a research and development center at Brayton Point to test further the commercial capability of its proprietary technology for manufacturing natural gas. In addition to pipeline-quality natural gas, the process produces a separate stream of sequestration-ready carbon dioxide -- which is facing growing governmental regulation because of global-warming concerns -- and captures mercury, sulfur and other pollutants.

"The potential of this project to solve two major problems -- making America more energy independent and reducing emissions of carbon dioxide -- cannot be ignored," said Dominion Generation CEO Mark F. McGettrick.

In recent years coal as a fuel for power generation has taken a back seat to cleaner burning natural gas. In the last year, companies such as gas producer Chesapeake Energy have even gone on the offensive against coal. Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon and his company were part of a coalition that purchased more than $1 million in national advertising for "Coal is Filthy" anti-coal ads, which were run by Clean Sky Coalition, a group started by McClendon (see NGI, April 30). The advertising targeted Texas markets, where TXU Corp. had proposed building coal plants. McClendon and his company also are funding the American Clean Skies Foundation to promote increased use of natural gas as an antidote to climate change.

Dominion noted that about half of the electricity produced in the United States comes from coal-fired power stations and that the country has been called the "Saudi Arabia of coal" because of its vast supplies. Finding a way to economically and reliably convert these reserves to natural gas and capture a significant portion of the carbon dioxide emissions could have a major impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping to decrease the need for imported energy, the company said.

"This technology has the potential to help provide a 'missing link' in terms of solving air emissions issues at coal-fired power plants," McGettrick said. "As Dominion has demonstrated, there are proven and commercially available technologies that will sharply reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and particulates. But thus far there has not been any commercially proven way to separate carbon dioxide as a first step toward capturing and sequestering those emissions. This technology could make it possible."

Dominion said it is also investing to help solve another part of the carbon puzzle, the permanent storage or sequestering of carbon dioxide emissions. It is sponsoring research at Virginia Tech to see if it is possible to sequester carbon dioxide in coal seams in southwest Virginia.

Brayton Point is New England's largest fossil-fueled power station with a total net summer capability of 1,568 MW. The plant is located about 30 miles south of Boston and 13 miles east of Providence, RI, and is capable of burning coal, natural gas and oil. Dominion acquired Brayton Point in 2005 along with two other power stations, Salem Harbor in Salem, MA, and Manchester Street in Providence.

Dominion said it is in the process of investing about $600 million at Brayton as part of a $3.1 billion company-wide commitment to improve substantially environmental performance at its operations. Investments at Brayton include an ash recovery system that offsets about 170,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year and reduces landfill needs. Other equipment has been or is being installed by Dominion to reduce significantly sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions.

Construction of the GreatPoint Energy demonstration project is expected to begin later this year with operations commencing in 2008. Dominion will be providing the site and operational assistance.

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