Energy 23 January, 2018 11:00 am   
Editorial staff

Perpetuum mobile in power engineering? (INTERVIEW)

The C-GEN installation adapts flexibly to the situation and, at the operator’s request, delivers as much electricity to the system as is necessary at any given moment, ensuring energy security. Using the energy mix, which contains both renewable energy sources, as well as the cheapest hydrocarbons and biomass – C-GEN installations are described by Tadeusz Bąk, the CEO of CWES. You are the creator of the C-GEN technology project, which, among other things, will use coal – the cheapest energy carrier. As I have understood, this technology is an innovative integration into a highly efficient production process of several already used technologies, well proven in the power industry, petrochemical and chemical industry. Can you briefly present this process?

Tadeusz Bąk: C-GEN technology integrates several well-known, mature partial technologies widely applied in the industry. Its secret is that they have been creatively combined in a single process, which makes it possible to achieve extraordinary synergy effects. It is suitable for multisectoral applications – in the power industry, industrial chemistry, agriculture or environmental protection. C-GEN is based on a well-known and also used until recently in Poland gasification process (mineralisation) of coal-based fuels – coal, coal, lignite, biomass or municipal waste. As we remember, in many Polish cities there were gasworks in operation, from which gas was supplied to the inhabitants, but also used to illuminate cities. Exactly this type of low-temperature gasification forms the basis of C-GEN technology.

The combination of several well-known technologies enables the production of electricity and heat in an almost emission-free manner, also excluding the production of dust and smog. The waste includes natural gas, urea, ammonia or methanol. One more interesting fact: in the classic process of ammonia production in chemical plants, about 1.2 tons of CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere per one tonne of ammonia. In our case, ammonia is produced completely emission-free.

Can we say, then, that this is a process in which we can generate electricity, but we can also consume it when it is too much? – for example, to produce synthetic natural gas, without large losses, as in the case of storage of batteries and accumulators?

C-GEN is more than just energy storage. C-GEN allows you to manage energy – avoiding uneconomical energy storage, as is the case with absurdly expensive Li-Ion cells – producing and consuming energy according to current demand. The specificity of this technology allows the implementation of the stabilization and regulation function for the power system. Taking into account its scalability, it can meet the expectations of prosumer sources on any scale, also meeting the expectations of energy clusters. The concept of management, rather than storage, is at the heart of C-GEN’s financial strategy. The so-called energy storage is an erroneous narrative, which some energy market players can be drawn in. Instead of bearing the gigantic costs of building energy batteries and their subsequent utilization, it is possible to intelligently control energy production and consumption. From the point of view of the gas or urea buyer, it is completely of no difference whether the products were made at night or during the day. Along with the avalanche increase in RES sources and the resignation from coal-based power generation in the West, it is not difficult to predict that there will be an uncontrolled increase in surplus energy, which can be utilised by C-GEN, the only such technology in the world. What is more, we are observing a global transformation of the power industry in the world (all of which includes: power generation with coal and lignite mining, gas industry, liquid fuels sector, heating), taking place in new environments (technological, economic, business and social), encompassing “everything.” This situation necessitates the inevitable (ultimate) need to reorganise the entire economy, a process that is the widest, deepest, and most dynamic in history. C-GEN faces these changes and market expectations. There is only a question of whether we are able to take advantage of a given opportunity.

How should we understand the statement that C-GEN will belong to a new model of the economy, the so-called “circular economy?”

C-GEN technology is a concept for building the value chain in a closed-loop “circular economy,” where waste from one process becomes a raw material for another, and industrial symbiosis makes waste or by-products from one sector – agriculture or industry, for example – a raw material for another sector. Owing to this approach, we are becoming competitive in relation to entrepreneurs from other parts of the world. In our case, we eliminate losses in the entire chain of electricity production and storage processes in the natural gas factor, whether in the production of hydrogen, oxygen or fertilizers.

This should be illustrated on the example of the LNG terminal in Świnoujście and Zakłady Azotowe in Puławy. Instead of the current model, in which the LNG terminal in Świnoujście and Zakłady Azotowe in Puławy are located several hundred kilometres away, we will have C-GEN installations. We will not burn about 2% of the gas and emit CO2 to regasify LNG, and several hundred kilometres away also burn gas to produce CO2 again (and hydrogen) to produce ammonia and urea.

What are the economic benefits? The current annual cost of LNG regasification, with a processing potential of 5.5 billion Nm3 of gas, is about PLN 3 billion. We lose so much irretrievably – everyone pays in gas bills proportionally to consumption. If the capacity of the terminal is doubled, according to the current government plans, the potential losses within ten years may reach PLN 60 billion and the potential for losses in the whole economy will exceed PLN 90 billion. After all, it is enough not to burn gas, thus losing the purest form of energy, which is cold energy – and to get it to work for the economy. We can successfully use this energy in closed circuits. However, this requires bold decisions. The current government of Prime Minister Morawiecki wants to tighten the economy and increase efficiency. Our technology allows us to streamline production and management processes while minimizing losses.

For almost two weeks in the eastern part of the USA, renewable energy production has stopped due to very low temperatures and heavy snowfalls. In a similar situation, when RES power plants will be the main generator, would methane storage and generation of electricity using C-GEN technology be sufficient to avoid a collapse of the energy supply system in a large area?

As I have mentioned, C-GEN is a technology that enables the generation of electricity and heat, regardless of weather conditions, sunlight or wind power, and additionally for any period of time. Storage of gas stocks is a strategy of natural gas companies. On the other hand, if, for some extreme reasons, the valve is closed on the gas import pipeline, C-GEN can supplement/supply the gas supply system with synthetic gas. It will use electricity from existing coal-fired power plants for this purpose. This is a valuable asset of C-GEN: emergency gas supply and cheap electricity. Due to the fact that the technology is scalable, we see a need but also the necessity to build a network of plants in a distributed wind farm system, which increases energy security and has a positive impact on electricity grids.

 Interview conducted by Teresa Wójcik