In a move that could lead to widespread gasification of lignite—a lower grade of coal that is widely available—utility Southern Co. has signed a memorandum of understanding with Shenhua Group, China's largest coal producer and a large power generator, to collaborate on the research, development and deployment of the Atlanta firm's gasification technology.

"While we are still early in our market development process, we believe there will be strong worldwide demand" for the firm's transport integrated technology, or TRIG, the technology to be used at Mississippi Power's new 582-MW integrated gasification combined-cycle plant in Kemper County, says Southern spokesman Tim Leljedal. Mississippi Power is a unit of Southern.

"Consider that more than half of the world's coal reserves consist of low-rank coal, the type that TRIG was developed to utilize," Leljedal says, and that China, India and other parts of Asia are set to add more than 400,000 MW of new, coal-based generation by 2035. "In many places around the world, including in Asia, natural gas is either not available or available [only] at high costs," he says, adding that low-rank coal such as lignite can be processed into syngas to replace natural gas in some locations.

The TRIG process that Southern developed with KBR Inc. and the U.S. Dept. of Energy aims to separate resulting carbon dioxide from the flue stream, enabling CO to be captured and sequestered. At the Kemper plant, set to begin commercial operation by year-end, Mississippi Power plans to capture 65% of its CO2 and pipe it, as a liquid, to depleted oil fields for use in enhanced oil recovery. China has said it will work to reduce growth in greenhouse-gas emissions. Leljedal declines to predict how soon the Southern-Shenhua deal might result in new TRIG-based projects but notes many international visitors to the Kemper site in recent months.