A new $308-million Dept. of Energy stimulus grant will advance a California clean coal full-scale demonstration project. The $2-billion Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) will feature Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology in Kern County.

HECA will convert coal and petroleum coke (a byproduct of the refining process in the Los Angeles basin) and non-potable water into hydrogen and CO2. A methanol-based process will then separate the CO2 from the hydrogen. The hydrogen will be used to fuel a 390 MW power station. The CO2 will be piped to the Elk Hills Field oil reservoir where it will be injected for sequestered storage and enhanced oil recovery. An estimated 50 million barrels could be accessed because of the injection.

“This is all proven technology,” says Bill Gibbons, HECA project manager. The challenge is putting all the components together and getting the performance parameters right for the turbine to run continuously on the hydrogen mix regardless of outside temperature.

This process could capture more than 2 million tons of CO2 per year according to Tiffany Rau, policy & communications manager for Hydrogen Energy, Americas, a joint venture owned by BP Alternative Energy and Rio Tinto.

The Irvine, Calif., office of Fluor Corp. is leading the engineering work. In the last three years as the project moved from southern California to it’s current Central Valley location, Fluor performed the environmental work to narrow down the options from three possible locations.

URS Corp., based in San Francisco, Calif., is the permitting consultant for the California Energy Commission and Air Quality Management District approval process.

“Approval could come in 2011, but we hope the stimulus award will give it momentum so we can speed up the process,” said Rau. She estimates the plat will be operational by the end of 2014.

“Gasification is important as a backup to renewable sources, but expensive so government support is key to moving the technology forward,” said Greg Hartnett, Fluor vice president.

Hartnett predicts that if the project performs as expected, more IGCC projects will follow in states where greenhouse gas emissions are being regulated.

The grant award was part of the third round of the Clean Coal Power Initiative. It could create an estimated 1,500 construction jobs and 100 permanent operational positions.