Financially resurgent utility to test pollution technology
October 16, 2006
The financial recovery of Reno-based Sierra Pacific Resources is paying off in unexpected ways the company’s ability to participate in cutting-edge pollution-control technology, for instance.
The utility said a few days ago that its Valmy Generating Station 40 miles east of Winnemucca will be the site of a test of an advanced process to remove pollutants from coal-fired power plants.
The test, scheduled to begin next spring if regulators approve, will be overseen by the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute, a California-based research-and-development think tank for the industry.
Here’s where Sierra Pacific’s financial recovery comes in: During the utility’s brush with bankruptcy after the Western power crisis of 2000-2001, it dropped its memberships in groups such as the Electric Power Research Institute to save cash, says Willie Clark, who oversees generation for Sierra Pacific.
Now that the company can afford once again to participate in the research efforts, one of the payoffs will be the pollution test at Valmy.
The technology to be tested is known as Regenerative Activated Coke Technology, or ReACT. Developed by Tokyo-based J-POWER EnTech Inc., its developers say it can reduce emissions of sulfur oxides by more than 98 percent, emissions of nitrogen oxides by up to 80 percent and emissions of mercury by more than 90 percent.
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At the heart of the technology is adsorber filled with activated coke that acts as a magnet to trap pollutants. (An adsorber the “d” is correct is a material than capture either a gas or a liquid.)
In the test at Valmy, about 1 percent of the flue gas from one of the generating units will be diverted into the ReACT module. Researchers will measure the amounts of pollutants that are removed.
The technology has been tested by J-POWER EnTech at 15 large power and industrial plants in Japan and Germany.
Clark says the risks for Sierra Pacific are small. The amount of flue gas to be diverted through the ReACT module isn’t large. The dry process uses far less water than other scrubber technology and doesn’t produce wastes that require costly disposal.
Financing of the test, meanwhile, will be borne by utilities across the nation that want a look at the results.
The big question for them is whether the technology works with U.S. coals. During the six-month test, various types of bituminous and sub-bituminous coals will be burned.
The generating unit at Valmy to be used in the test doesn’t have modern sulfur-control equipment it was built in 1981 before current rules took effect but Clark says Sierra Pacific wants to be prepared for the day that tighter controls might be placed on the plant. Getting a sneak peek at the ReACT module is a step in that direction.
Sierra Pacific’s interest in the test drew applause from at least one regulator.
“If this demonstration is successful, it could open the door to a promising new technology for controlling pollutant emissions,” says Michael Elges, chief of the bureau of air pollution control in the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.
Valmy, a 500-megawatt plant, burns pulverized coal. It owned by Sierra Pacific and Idaho Power Co.