The future of Gulf Coast lignites

James, D.R.

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 41(2): 3


There is a 260+ year supply of lignite on the Gulf Coast. Almost all of today's lignite production is used to generate electricity; providing the south with a reliable and affordable electrical energy supply. The questions are: What does the future hold for lignite? What are some of the challenges and opportunities? Population growth in the southern United States has fueled a growing need for electricity in the region. Lignite will continue to supply power plants with low cost, dependable fuel. Affordable and reliable electricity is critical for economic growth and to maintain our standard of living. Technological advances are continuing to improve the efficiency of power plants while, at the same time, reducing their environmental impacts. The environmental impacts of lignite use and the public's perceptions are the biggest challenge and opportunity for lignite. The industry of today is not the same as it was 30 years ago. Many former waste products and pollutants are becoming valuable products. Carbon dioxide (CO2 ) is the next challenge for the industry. Fortunately, for Gulf Coast lignite, the region has numerous oil and gas fields that are candidates for enhanced recovery technologies requiring large volumes of CO2 . This means the industry can look at CO2 not as a pollutant but as a product in the near future. Electricity generation is Gulf Coast lignite today, has been its past, and will be its near-term future. However, lignite has far more potential than merely to be burned. Lignite is being converted into pipeline quality natural gas, diesel fuel, gasoline, methanol, and a wide variety of other chemicals for the transportation and manufacturing industries. Gulf Coast lignites can also be converted into all these things and will be in the future. The conversion technologies for the future do not need to be invented and developed; they are here today and are commercially proven. National energy security, volatile energy prices and supplies, and the need for diversified energy sources will drive this aspect of lignite's future. Testing of Gulf Coast lignites by The North American Coal Corporation has shown that they are some of the most reactive gasification fuels in the world. This means our Gulf Coast lignite may become the gasification fuel of choice in the future.