Many of today’s electric power headlines are dominated by natural gas, renewables and efficiency, but the Department of Energy (DOE) apparently hasn’t forgotten about the importance of developing low-carbon technology for coal-fired power plants.
There is significant coverage of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and other low-carbon technology for fossil plants included in DOE’s recently-released Quadrennial Technology Review for 2015.
The document offers an assessment of energy technologies and research opportunities, especially ones that could enter commercial operation by 2050.
Through 2050, most of the increased energy demand and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are projected to be in non-Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
Even in the developed world, the report suggests there will be continue to be a need for conventional power plants, such as coal and nuclear.
“While supporting aggressive emission reductions, the traditional market drivers such as reliability, safety, and affordability must be maintained and enhanced,” DOE said in a chapter on clean electric power technology.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that world primary energy demand could grow by 37% between 2012 and 2040, assuming existing and planned government policies, and during this period electricity demand is predicted to grow by 78%.
Meanwhile the IEA projects that CCS will be required for 14% of the global cumulative CO2 emissions reductions by 2050, for a scenario with less than a 2°C rise in global temperatures, according to the report.
“In fact, without a CCS mitigation option, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change projects that the costs of achieving this global goal would increase by 138%,” DOE said in the report.
“The development of coal with CCS addresses concerns about GHG emissions, but in doing so, significantly increases the water required for plant operations unless dry cooling is used,” according to the report.
First-generation, large-scale CCS demonstrations are being demonstrated around the world. One example is the SaskPower Boundary Dam Project. Another is the Southern (NYSE:SO) Kemper IGCC project in Mississippi.
Significant pilot projects, which employ some DOE cost-sharing, are also underway at the Southern Barry plant in Alabama and the NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG) Parish facility in Texas.
There are currently 22 large-scale CC2 projects globally that are somewhere between “detailed design” and actual commissioning, according to the DOE report.
Research is also advancing toward commercial deployment of CCS at natural gas power plants, although gas plants can pose more challenges due to lower concentrations of CO2 in the flue gas.
DOE also notes that much research on CCS is occurring in China in connection with an agreement with the United States.
Development of a successful CO2 storage industry will require storage that is safe and permanent. Both globally and in the United States, deep saline formations offer the greatest potential for the CO2 storage necessary to provide meaningful reductions in carbon emissions, DOE said.
Alternative combustion processes are being explored. Oxy-combustion, which burns coal directly with oxygen creating highly concentrated CO2, and chemical looping, in which oxygen is separated from air as an inherent part of the combustion process, are examples.
The chapter also notes that nuclear operators are building four brand new reactors in Georgia and South Carolina. It marks the first new nuclear plant construction in 30 years, DOE said.