Too old to be babied, yet still too young to be blamed, integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology is slowly emerging from adolescence.
While there are hundreds of pulverized coal-fired power plants in the U.S., there are only three operational IGCC power plants stateside. The eldest IGCC facility celebrated its 20th anniversary of operations last year, and it no longer uses coal due to costs. Its youngest sibling is double its size, more complex, and consistently garnered maudlin headlines over the last half decade as it exploded budget constraints and repeatedly missed deadlines while ramping up. The middle child, also double the size of the eldest, during ramp-up was such a locus of scandal an executive told the local daily it would “need an exorcist.”1 Their parents were prototype facilities, conceived in the public sector and academia, birthed in the private sector, coddled by government, and now either closed or converted. One is currently being repurposed to make fertilizer. Abroad, IGCC has met perhaps more success and interest, specifically in countries with high coal and low natural gas reserves.
This snapshot perhaps lends to cynical conclusions unnecessarily. No doubt, cheap natural gas from north-central Appalachia is killing more than just the U.S. coal sector. Nuclear plants nationwide are getting the axe, and uranium miner Cameco recently vaporized jobs after shuttering a mine and attempting to placate stampeding investors. Indeed, IGCC is in good company as a viable technology that has been sidelined by the advent and deployment of innovative hydraulic fracturing drilling technology making Marcellus shale-bound gas accessible.