February 13, 2006
BP Proposes Low Carbon Dioxide Electric Plant In California

BP and Edison International are proposing construction of a CO2 sequestering electric generation plant that would use petroleum coke left over from refining oil.

CARSON - BP and Edison International said Friday they plan to team up on a $1 billion hydrogen-fueled power plant in southern California.

The plant, near the BP refinery in Carson 20 miles (32 km) south of Los Angeles, would come online by 2011 and generate 500 megawatts of electricity, about enough to power 325,000 homes.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the plant would be the first in America to use a new process that uses a chemical process to produce clean-burning hydrogen from petroleum coke, a residue from refining crude oil.

Note that contrary to some news reports this is not a done deal. The costs are higher on this approach and BP wants government subsidies before going ahead with it.

While some articles on this story claim the petroleum coke is currently worthless this article says the petroleum coke from refineries is currently sold to Asia and used as an energy source.

Refineries in the South Bay and Harbor Area create about 17,000 tons of petroleum coke a day during the production of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, officials said. BP Carson, which makes the Arco brand, alone creates about 4,000 tons a day.

The coke is not thrown away. It is often shipped to Asia, where it is simply burned as a fuel. It can also be used in the production of aluminum.

The BP-Edison project would consume about 5,000 tons per day, according to Ted Craver, CEO of the Edison Mission Group, the Edison subsidiary which will work on the project.

90% of the CO2 would be sequestered and injected in California oil fields to boost oil extraction.

The proposed Carson project would combine a number of existing industrial processes to provide a new option for generating electricity without significant CO2 emissions. Petroleum coke produced at California refineries would first be converted to hydrogen and CO2 gases and around 90 percent of the CO2 captured and separated.

The hydrogen gas stream would be used to fuel a gas turbine to generate electricity. The captured CO2 would be transported by pipeline to an oilfield and injected into reservoir rock formations thousands of feet underground, both stimulating additional oil production and permanently trapping the CO2.

BP is hoping for tax incentives and regulatory incentives so that customers will buy the electricity which will be more expensive to produce.

Final project investment decisions will follow further study by the partners and review by the California Energy Commission and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. BP and EMG are beginning project discussions with state and federal government agencies and local stakeholders and are exploring options for selling the electricity the plant would generate. BP is in discussions with Occidental Petroleum to develop options for sequestering the CO2 in Occidental’s California oilfields.

The costs of hydrogen power are higher than those of traditional power plant fuels. As a result, the project will depend, in part, on incentives provided in the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 for advanced gasification technologies. In addition, continued progress on the California Public Utilities Commission's electricity "resource adequacy" procurement policies will encourage this first-of-its-kind facility.

Sounds like they want to extract hydrogen from the petroleum coke and in the process extract the carbon as carbon dioxide. Then they intend to pipe or otherwise ship the CO2 to oil fields while burning the hydrogen to generate electricity. My guess is that if the price of oil keeps going up the price of petroleum coke will rise as well. Perhaps in 2 years the unprofitability problem will have grown worse and this proposed facility won't get built.

I wonder how the cost of generating electricity using this method compares to the costs of generating electricity by burning corn. No need to sequester the CO2 from burning corn since corn gets its carbon from the atmosphere in the first place.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 February 13 10:41 PM  Energy Policy

Philip Sargent said at February 14, 2006 3:46 PM:

CO2 from biofuels is still worth storing if you can - CO2 is CO2 - it doesn't care where it came from when it's in the atmosphere.

It's just that biofuel use is generally planned to be too diverse and small scale to be worth separating the CO2; and the burners aren't generally adapable to pure oxygen which makes separation cheaper.

In fact, storing CO2 from biofuels is one of the few ways we can actually reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere: though the various carbon market mechanisms today might not give it the double value it probably should have. The other methods are encouraging biological growth of various kinds and then storing the carbon compounds without using them as fuel (shellfish shells, deep-buried peat, charcoal etc).

Randall Parker said at February 14, 2006 6:11 PM:


True enough. But one advantage of biofuels is supposed to be the ability to burn them without expensive CO2 capture.

My take on the whole CO2 capture push is that it is not going to get very far. Around the world governments are going to be reluctant (and in democracies their voters even more reluctant) to saddle themselves with the cost of CO2 capture. The costs of control of pollutants that make the local air lousy is a lot easier to justify to locals because locals get the benefit. CO2 emissions control might deliver far more diffuse benefits over a much longer time scale. That's a far far harder sell.

I do not expect net CO2 emissions go down much until we shift away from fossil fuels. I think we should focus our efforts toward bringing down the costs of the alternatives to the point where the shift gets accelerated by market forces.

Marvin Meyer said at February 14, 2006 7:17 PM:

CO2 sequ. has been experimented with and along with subsidies, been put forth to the oil industry in Alberta Canada as an alternative to extract oil. Problem is the infrastructure needs to be put in place $$ and the flow must be continous to the oil industry with no interuptions. Lowering the manufacturing costs of Alternatives and increasing the efficiency rate of PV's from 13 to30% is going to be expensive.

By mixing petroluem coke(asphaltenes) with atomised water and surfactants burns just as hot as a therm of Natural gas but at 1/3 (I believe) less pollution.

Doug said at February 15, 2006 5:54 PM:

BP is trying to build a smaller-scale version of this in Scotland. The project was announced in June. Not sure of the status.


I heard that burning hydrogen in a gas turbine produces a lot of NOx. Can anybody confirm?

Philip Sargent said at February 16, 2006 4:29 AM:

Not if you burn in pure oxygen of course - though since a gas turbine is a mass-flow device, it needs some more working fluid than just the fuel and oxidiser; so you would recyle some of the exhaust so that the H2+CO burns in a mixture of O2 and CO2 in fact.

Paul Dietz said at February 16, 2006 6:24 AM:

though since a gas turbine is a mass-flow device, it needs some more working fluid than just the fuel and oxidiser

That's not because a gas turbine is a mass flow device, but rather because the temperature would be too high (both melting the turbine blades and losing energy to incomplete combustion.) CO2 also would act to reduce the speed of sound in the combustion gas, allowing the turbine to operate efficiently at lower tip speed.

Another means of getting pure CO2 from combustion is something called chemical looping combustion. This doesn't require an air separation plant, and also acts to reduce the irreversibility of combustion by breaking it into two steps that are performed at different temperatures.

A lan Njeru said at February 17, 2006 9:38 AM:

Negative economic value materials like tires, PET coke, garbage, municipal solid wastes, sewage sludge, swine wastes medical wastes, waste coal, saw dust and waste timber, pallets - substances that contain calorific value but are a nuisance- become attractive prospects for energy production in a scenario where energy prices are high and supply is tight. This utilization of "negative economic value" substances is widespreas in Asia especially Japan where real estate and energy are expensive; If it costs more to handle transport and bury waste then it makes more sense to extract something out of it.

The oil industry like the timber industry is at times left with mountains of waste that can only be stockpiled or exported to far flung markets. THe the use of gasification(partial oxidation) syngas can be produced and then converted to valuable fuelds, chemicals, fertilizers and for power generation.
The advantage with gasification is that a wide range of feedstock can be used and thus prevent price shocks resulting form escalation in the price of one material.

To my understanding gas turbines are more efficient than direct combustion.

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