HECA withdraws application for “clean coal” ammonia plant

Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) has withdrawn its application for certification from the California Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission – essentially shelving the project indefinitely.

The proposed “clean coal” (actually, 75% coal and 25% pet coke) project was to have produced 300 MW net power, and 2,080 stpd ammonia using technology by Casale, most of which would have been upgraded to 1,700 stpd urea and 1,400 stpd UAN.

Full details are in my Research Note for HECA in Kern County, CA, but the project’s main problems were:

  • losing CO2 sales contracts for EOR after the price of oil plummeted,
  • deciding to forego any income from EOR and sequester its CO2 in nearby geological formations instead, but without providing data to demonstrate that this fundamental change to the project’s identity was possible or safe,
  • changing owners, and then changing business plan by adding nitrogen fertilizer polygeneration, midway through the certification process,
  • facing relentless, organized pressure from the Sierra Club and AIR (the aptly-named Association of Irritated Residents),
  • having to return funding to the DOE because it missed construction deadlines,
  • and presumably getting cold feet watching the soaring costs and litigious fallout from the $2.97 billion $6.64+ billion “clean coal” project at Kemper County, MS.

The project had been purchased by SCS Energy in 2011, after its original developers, BP and Rio Tinto, decided that “the project did not meet their requirements for economic viability.”

As HECA stated in its notice of withdrawal:

“Applicant continues to believe that the HECA site, over which Applicant retains control, is well suited to carbon sequestration … Preliminary assessments of the geologic storage potential at the HECA site have concluded that shifting to a saline formation injection on-site has a high potential for success.

“Notwithstanding the foregoing, the timeframe for deploying a project such as HECA has been longer than was anticipated at the time the Revised AFC [Application for Certification] was filed. Recent developments, such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s February 9, 2016 decision to stay implementation of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan … have cast additional uncertainty over the timing of such projects. Given the current uncertainty related to timing, the time that has passed since some of the analysis related to the Project was completed, and the likely need for substantially revised analysis to reflect anticipated changes to the Project, Applicant has decided to withdraw the Revised AFC.

“For the reasons stated above, Applicant continues to be optimistic about the prospects for HECA at its proposed location. Applicant will continue to monitor relevant policy, regulatory, legal and economic developments, and work with agencies and other entities likely to play a role in the future deployment of the Project … and looks forward to working on a future iteration of this important and innovative Project.”

At this time, there’s no indication that HECA will be revived in the foreseeable future, nor that any revised project would include polygeneration of ammonia or derivative nitrogen fertilizers.

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