Coal-fired ethanol plants will create huge market for equipment

Paul Boughton

The US is following the lead of Brazil and is building hundreds of ethanol plants with the goal of substituting this home grown product for gasoline.

While the first plants were built with gas-fired boilersnew plants are likely to use coal-fired steam generators. Some are already operating and others are in construction.

The impact of the coal-firing will add billions of dollars in equipment revenues predicts the McIlvaine Company in its World Market for Your Products.

Just the additional capital expense of $18 million for coal-firing per 50 million gallon/yr plant will boost worldwide expenditures in ethanol plants by $2–$10 billion over the next eight years depending on what percentage of the plants select coal.

Thissays  McIlvaineis in addition to the tens of billions of dollars which will be spent on the balance of the plants.

Five plants in operation or under construction in the US are using coal-fired boilers with a cost of $45 million each. This includes the boilermaterial handling systemsfabric filtersnon-selective catalytic reduction for NOxand dry scrubbers using lime for SO2 removal.

All these plants require the same instrumentation and continuous air pollution monitors used by the large plantsso this will be a large market for suppliers of these instruments.

Centrifuges and other filters are required in the ethanol processing. Since some of the coal-fired boilers will be fitted with wet scrubbersthe market for wastewater separation equipment will also be positively impacted.

The market for pumps and valves used in ethanol processing is substantial. The addition of coal-firing adds another 30 per cent to the potential. The same is true for the market for water and wastewater treatment chemicals with the exception of lime which is even greater.

Due to the need for SO2 removalthe market for lime greatly increases where coal-firing is utilised.

McIlvaine predicts that most ethanol plants in the future will rely on coal. Howeverthere are several attractive alternatives to building dedicated small coal generators.

One route being demonstrated at the Coal Creek Power Plant by Blue Flint Ethanol and Great Rivers Energy is to co-locate the ethanol plant with an existing coal-fired steam generator. The waste steam will supply the ethanol plant. This greatly reduces the capital cost and increases the theoretical efficiency of the coal plant.

Another route is to build multiple steam using plants along with a new coal-fired generator. This has the advantage not only of waste steam use but the economy of scale. This approach is being used in GoodlandKansas.

In World Market for Your ProductsMcIlvaine projects a double-digit growth rate in ethanol production for the present level worldwide of 13 billion gallons/year.

The US will overtake Brazil this year with production of 4.7 billion gallons vs. 4.0 billion for Brazil. China will be the next largest producer with 1.3 billion gallons. India will be next with 0.7 billion gallons.

The entire production of the EU this year will only be 1.3 billion gallons. Howevernew legislation will cause this market to grow substantially over the next five years. 

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