Coal gasification is a process that converts coal into synthetic gas or “syngas,” using an “Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle” (IGCC), the central component of which is the gasifier. By applying heat and pressure to coal, steam, and air, the gasifier converts coal into gaseous form. The resulting crude syngas is then filtered and refined to remove contaminants such as mercury and sulfur, and the end product is 20% more efficient than regular coal.
Though coal gasification is often touted as a “clean coal” process for this reason, it is by no means clean. The process of coal mining produces slurry ponds containing heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, and selenium, and consumes millions of gallons of water per day to process coal. Additionally, coal ash disposal sites consume land, release toxic dust into the air, and contaminate groundwater.
UCAN is concerned about two local cases of coal gasification: Leucadia National Corporation, based in New York, has plans to build a coal gasification plant on the Southeast Side of Chicago, and Tenaska Energy, based in Nebraska, plans to build a coal gasification plant in Taylorville, Illinois. Tenaska has already obtained a permit to construct its plant and could potentially use $50 million in taxpayer dollars for construction (through the Illinois Coal Revival Grant Fund). If successfully built, the Taylorville plant would raise electricity costs in Illinois by $286 million per year over other energy resources, according to the Illinois Commerce Commission. Recently, Tenaska announced their intention of building a natural gas plant instead. Though a step up from coal gasification, a natural gas plant will still pollute the atmosphere with CO2, and it is an investment in the wrong direction when tax dollars could be spent developing solar and wind energies instead.