EnergyQuest this week said it is providing coal-gasification technology for two plants expected to create 1.2 gigawatts of energy in India.
The news from the Henderson, Nev.-based company was the first many had heard about the plants, which experts said could become India's largest foray into the controversial "clean coal" arena.
"For better or for worse, and arguably for worse, India has put a lot more emphasis on getting plants built than on getting the latest and greatest technologies for coal," said Jeremy Carl, a fellow at Stanford University's Program on Energy and Sustainable Development who has extensively studied advanced coal technologies in China and India.
India has been known to have a particularly dirty form of coal that can be difficult to gasify and has only dabbled in small demonstration gasification projects, Carl said.
"There's nothing at the utility scale that I'm aware of," he said.
Proponents -- such as Carl and companies like Tucker, Ga.-based CoalTek and Cambridge, Mass.-based GreatPoint Energy -- argue that better coal technologies may be able to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with the popular fossil fuel. Advocates believe such technologies may become key for places like India and China, which are rapidly growing their energy consumption and showing few signs of curbing their coal habits.
"If you look at China and India," Carl said, "there's almost no chance that they're not going to increase their usage of coal, and if we don't get more serious in figuring out ways to clean this up, we're going to be beating our fists against the door in frustration."
But emphasis on coal is unpopular among many environmentalists, who argue that even at its "cleanest," coal still is far too environmentally damaging. They also argue that carbon storage that would permanently remove carbon-dioxide emissions from the atmosphere is still largely theoretical.
Venture capitalists have moved tentatively, investing in coal technologies just a small fraction of what they've poured into the solar space, for example.
EnergyQuest, traded on the Over the Counter Bulletin Board, said it had been selected to provide gasification technologies, procurement, commissioning and management for two projects just east of Mumbai, India -- a $450 million, 500-megawatt plant and a $630 million, 700-megawatt plant -- constructed and financed by Mumbai-based Vimala Enterprise.
The plants, to be built in the next few years, will be 30 percent more coal-efficient than a typical coal plant, said EnergyQuest CEO Wilf Ouellette.
EnergyQuest has acquired technology Ouellette said is similar to the more widely adopted Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, which converts coal into a synthetic gas that powers a gas turbine.
"It's along the same lines, except we're doing a little more with the coal before we put it into gasification," Ouellette said. "We're taking a lot of the dirt out of it, and the de-sulfuring takes place in that process so that there's less cleanup in the gasification than the conventional method."
Ouellette says the method could remove as much as 20 percent of the carbon, but he isn't sure yet where that will go.
"We're looking at sequestering some of the CO2, but it depends on the formation of the area," he said. "Right now, it's just theoretical."
Underground carbon storage that is still unproven, despite significant research. On Monday, at a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced a new $750 million fund for carbon-storage research.