Coal's Future Linked to CO2 Technology
Cheap natural gas from shale might dominate the business pages these days but much of America’s electricity is still supplied by coal and coal’s future is interlaced with commercial development of technology to use the fuel more cleanly.
This was the central theme of both a June 20 briefing designed to educate congressional staff on coal technology innovation as well as a new report calling for more investment in coal and carbon control technology.
The Coal Utilization Research Council (CURC) and Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) made available copies of their updated June 2012 “Technology Roadmap” during the Washington, D.C. event.
“The central goal of the Roadmap is to reduce the cost to install the CO2 capture system as well as reduce the consumption of energy from the power plant that is needed to operate the CO2 capture system,” according to the document. The groups believe the current high cost of carbon capture and storage (CCS) can be reduced 30% to 40% through new technology.
The head of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Systems, Darren Mollot, told the June 20 gathering that the federal government remains eager to see commercial development of CCS technology. After a much-debated CO2 cap-and-trade plan failed to make it through Congress a couple of years ago, DOE and industry must look for other incentives to spur CCS development, Mollot said.
In the near-term, use of captured carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) might provide CCS with an early market niche, Mollot said. Enhanced oil recovery is certainly “the big hitter right now” in helping commercialize CCS, Mollot said.
A Southern Co.(NYSE: SO) subsidiary’s integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) power plant in Mississippi; Summit Power Group’s IGCC project in Texas; SCS Energy’s Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) project IGCC in California all plan to employ CCS technology that would provide captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, according to the new “roadmap” document. The same goes for a carbon capture project at NRG Energy’s (NYSE: NRG) existing Parish coal plant in Texas.
But two other much-reported advanced power projects, Duke Energy’s (NYSE: DUK) Edwardsport IGCC and Tenaska’s Taylorville project, don’t currently include a carbon capture component, according to the report. Tenaska, incidentally, recently said it would shelve the coal gasification part of the Taylorville project, instead opting for regular natural gas as the power plant's fuel for at least the first few years of operation.
During a question-and-answer session with participants, the DOE’s Mollot acknowledged that technology breakthroughs are needed to drive down the cost of compressing and capturing CO2.
Despite increased use of natural gas for power generation, better CO2 control technology must still be developed in order to achieve policy goals that call for dramatically slashing greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, Mollot said.
The key is “getting the stuff deployed sooner rather than later,” Mollot said.
A parade of 19 different speakers then gave five-minute presentations on technology innovations that should lead to cleaner, more efficient ways to burn coal or deal with carbon dioxide.
They ranged from General Electric (NYSE: GE) to the Gasification Technologies Council to a newly-formed private alliance that wants to backfit an existing U.S. coal plant with oxy-combustion carbon controls.
CURC: Federal coal R&D pays off
In the new “roadmap” document, CURC and EPRI say that investing in coal technology is a wise investment. According to the document, federal research and development spending on coal has returned $13 to the taxpayer for every $1 spent.
The two organizations suggest an annual investment in coal technology of between $400m and $500m per year through 2025. Investment should then average another $190m per year through 2035. “Using the traditional public and private sector cost-sharing ratio, industry would contribute 20% of these costs and the federal government would contribute 80%,” according to the report.
“Despite its strong historic and current role as a primary energy resource in the United States, coal faces multiple challenges today,” the report said. These include case-by-case determinations of CO2 limitations for new coal plants to the array of various EPA standards to further decreases in emissions of SO2, NOx and mercury.
Today’s new coal plants emit 95% less SO2 and NOx and 90% less mercury compared to coal plants built in the 1970s, according to the report.
In addition, new coal power plants require at least seven years to design, permit and construct, the report said. This is occurring at a time of weak growth in U.S. electric demand.
An earlier Roadmap was published by CURC and EPRI in 2008. A copy of the prior roadmap is currently available on the CURC website, which is www.coal.org.
Barber is chief of generation at Generation Hub, a unit of Energy Central