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The technology of tomorrow powered by traditional resources


Experts predict that in ten years' time the economy of the Gdansk coastline area will be threatened by a shortage of electricity. Already today, therefore, it is necessary to discuss the options for a suitable location and technology of a new power plant. The proposed location on the port land designated for investment refers to a coal-fired power plant that will utilize coal - Poland's traditional resource - and take advantage of the reliable transportation routes to the Port of Gdansk.

In March 2008, on the initiative of the Port of Gdansk Authority SA, the first meeting was held by a task force set up to prepare a preliminary concept analysis of locating a power plant on the port premises. The task force drew a number of specific conclusions with full awareness of the fact that the choice of the location of a coal-fired power plant must build on economic, social, environmental, spatial and systemic factors. The first conclusion was to determine that a productive capacity of 1,000-2,000 MW be taken into consideration. The second suggested that a task of such complexity, due to the above-local and regional importance of the investment, demands joint action by PGA SA and the Polish Power Grid Company as well as authorities at all levels.

Additionally, a hierarchy of issues was identified including legal,organisational and technical options of feeding electric power to the national grid, the proportion of permissible gas and dust pollution, possible disposal of cooling water to the Gulf of Gdansk, alternative utilisation of solid waste, funding sources for the investment, prospects of receiving EU funds towards the so-called clean technology, requirements for transportation and storage of carbon dioxide and, finally, providing adequate support in anticipation of public protests.

A joint City and Port Task Force for the Power Plant Construction was appointed and representatives of GE Energy invited for consultations. The ensuing discussions focused on the proprietary technology for electricity production designed and offered by GE Energy. The technology of Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) utilizes air for turbine cooling and does not require water. As the demand for coolant is two-thirds less than in conventional power plants, it enables the use of mechanical draft cooling towers, possibly fitted with sprinklers, without the need of using a flow system supplied with water from the Gulf of Gdansk. With no cooling tower, the only high-rise objects (of much lower parameters) are pillars for removing sulphur compounds. The area taken by the IGCC system facilities is comparable with that of conventional power plants. While 20 ha is sufficient to reach the capacity of 800 MW, doubling this output does not require proportional enlargement of the area. In view of the above - as reassured by PGA SA - designating even 40 ha for the construction of a power plant will not collide with the scheduled expansion of the Gdansk port.

The input product in the combustion process is synthesis gas which is relatively easily cleaned from the remains of mercury and sulphur. Removal of arsenic compounds involves the application of filters containing activated carbon. Therefore, the installation of the IGCC system relying on gas or coal in Gdansk would undoubtedly signify an environmental revolution. This solution - according to GE Energy representatives - also ensures the elimination of problems related to solid waste. Coal used in a combustion process provides the turbine with gas. Then - upon completion of gasification - it becomes solid waste in the form of vitrified slag which is chemically neutral, as confirmed by scientific research, and can be applied as material for the hardening of forest tracks.

Given the widespread sensitivity to toxic pollution frequently generated by industry in general - and by power industry in particular - the possible implementation of the IGCC technology in Gdansk has captured public imagination. However, there is a long way to go before the project can be agreed upon. The cost of construction per 1 MW in the IGCC technology is similar to that in the conventional coal combustion technology. It is worthwhile, therefore, to consider all pros and cons. It is for a good reason that our neighbours to the west have recently rejected six projects of constructing traditional coal blocks. The rapidly growing worldwide interest in the IGCC patent (especially after 1980 and 2000) indicates that before long there will be competition and many more of those waiting to acquire such technology. Today, GE Energy declares they can complete the construction of a power plant within 4-5 years' time.

Apart from the participants involved to date, the leaders of the City Hall Environmental Protection Department, Gdansk Development Office and GE Energy, another meeting at the Port of Gdansk was also attended by a representative of a potential investor. The experience in producing and selling electricity may present an additional incentive towards making a quick decision. The system offered by GE Energy has already proven itself as reliable in many power plants all over the world. There are currently sixty-two coal gasification systems in operation. Forty percent of the world electricity production is based on coal. Since coal resources are the largest reserves of fossil fuels nowadays, the sophisticated IGCC technologies are likely to bring the revival of the old natural resource.

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