Daniel Roberts stands in front of a large gasification rig.

Coal gasification: from fundamentals to application

Gasification is a key enabling technology for a range of efficient and sustainable systems for producing low emissions electricity and other energy products from coal.

  • 11 March 2010 | Updated 27 July 2012

Advanced energy systems rely on the coal gasification process, where coal is reacted with oxygen and steam at high temperatures and pressures to create syngas, a combustible mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

Syngas can be used to efficiently generate power and as a feedstock to produce chemicals and liquid fuels.

Gasification – efficient, flexible, and sustainable

The gasification process is an important aspect of many current and next-generation energy systems.

A number of demonstration and near-commercial scale coal-fired Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plants are already operating around the world.

Additional IGCC plants that incorporate carbon capture and storage projects are currently being planned in Australia and internationally.

There are hundreds of gasification-based systems around the world used for production of high-value products such as chemicals and liquid fuels from a range of feedstocks, including coal. 

Large scale application for power generation from coal, however, is not widespread and costs are still higher than existing technologies. 

An important part of CSIRO’s research is to work towards a reduction in the costs and risks associated with widespread uptake of gasification-based power systems.

An important part of CSIRO's gasification research is to reduce the technology cost and facilitate adoption at a commercial scale.

Research challenges

Gasifying coal to produce syngas is a complex process performed under intense reaction conditions. 

Temperatures are high (up to 1 700 °C) and pressures are high (20–30 times atmospheric pressure). A suite of chemical and physical processes combine to convert coal to syngas.

A thorough understanding of gasification processes is required to allow accurate and reliable assessment of coals and other fuels, as well as to support the design and implementation of gasification technologies. 

The application of this understanding must then take into account the range of different coal and gasification technology combinations, which requires the development of robust models and process optimisation tools.

CSIRO research

CSIRO's gasification research addresses coal and energy industry needs to understand the suitability and performance of coals in a range of existing and emerging gasification technologies. 

Our gasification research program covers a range of fundamental and applied aspects of the gasification process:

  • laboratory investigations into the fundamental aspects of coal devolatilisation, char formation, and char reaction kinetics
  • measurements of coal gasification behaviour under realistic high temperature, high pressure conditions using our Pressurised Entrained Flow Reactor (PEFR)
  • experimental and modelling investigations into slag formation and flow behaviour—coals used in entrained flow gasifiers must form a slag that can flow reliably out of the gasifier
  • the development of mechanistic and process models which allow our gasification science to be applied to solving real, industry-relevant problems associated with coal selection and performance in gasification systems.

We have also undertaken pilot-scale testing of Australian coals in commercial gasification facilities internationally, providing an important link between our laboratory scale work and coal performance in industrial-scale gasification systems.

This work is part of CSIRO's coal technology research, which is focused on the development of technologies to improve the safety and efficiency of underground coal mining, and accelerate the deployment of low emission coal-based power technologies.

Collaboration

CSIRO is working with the Federal Government's Australian National Low Emissions Coal Research and Development body, as well as State Governments and Universities, to develop a national research program for a range of low emissions technologies.

We also work with local power generation and coal companies as well as international gasification technology vendors to reduce the risks and costs associated with a transition to gasification-based, low-emissions energy systems.

CSIRO also undertakes a number of Australian Coal Association Research Program projects, and our gasification and syngas expertise is utilised in other CSIRO research groups working in complimentary science areas, such as biomass conversion.

Find out more about Carbon capture and storage.