The Future of Coal – Technology

While current economics do not support construction of new coal plants, we support the development of technologies that will allow existing coal plants to remain part of the nation’s energy mix. The John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant in Arkansas is an example of the kind of technology innovation that is needed to keep coal in the resource mix.

The 600-megawatt (MW) plant, which began operation in December 2012, is one of the cleanest, most efficient coal plants in the United States. It operates the country’s only “ultra-supercritical” steam cycle using advanced materials and combustion technology to consume less coal and produce fewer emissions, including carbon dioxide, than traditional pulverized coal plants. In addition, state-of-the-art emission control technologies and the use of low-sulfur coal enable the Turk Plant to meet emission limits that are among the most stringent ever required for a pulverized coal unit.

To effectively reduce the carbon footprint of fossil generation, ultra-supercritical technologies for power generation such as Turk Plant are a step in the right direction, but still they cannot achieve the CO2 emissions of a similarly-sized, state-of-the-art natural gas combined cycle plant. In the near- and mid-term outlook (2017-2030), it is very unlikely that new coal-fueled power plants – even those with carbon capture and storage technology – will be competitive with natural gas combined cycle on the basis of cost and CO2 emissions.

To date, several commercial-scale pre- and post-combustion carbon capture systems are being demonstrated at coal-fueled power plants. However, we believe these technologies have yet to operate long enough, nor have they met industry cost and performance targets to be considered competitive practical solutions for power generation.

There are, however, transformational technologies under development that have the potential to build upon the types of innovation that the Turk Plant has pioneered for the industry, further reducing CO2 emissions from fossil-fueled power generation. Technologies currently in early development stages, such as pressurized oxy-combustion, chemical looping and supercritical CO2 power cycles, all rely on alternative fuel-to-energy conversions and fundamentally different ways of energy production and/or efficiency improvements to mitigate and/or easily separate CO2 emissions for other uses or for storage.

With adequate research and development funding, along with robust support from the Department of Energy and the federal government, we believe that these transformational technologies could improve the cost-competitiveness of low-carbon coal-fueled power generation in the future.

To support development, demonstration and deployment of these technologies, the industry, along with the Electric Power Research Institute, U.S. Department of Energy, technology suppliers and academia are working to test and validate state-of-the-art equipment and components, new metal alloys, alternative materials, and advanced manufacturing techniques. The desired outcome is to have these transformational low-carbon fossil-fueled power generation technology options available for commercial scale demonstration in the 2030 to 2035 timeframe.