NEWS RELEASE                                   MARCH 2012

Progressive and Opportunistic Cleaner Energy Should be the Strategy

We cannot afford to wait for so-called “Clean Coal.”  We need a strategy which moves us forward to cleaner coal now. We should immediately start building ultra-supercritical, highly efficient, low polluting coal-fired power plants to replace the oldest and least efficient existing power plants. This is the key first step toward progressive and opportunistic cleaner energy.

There are too many uncertain variables for the U.S. and the world to set rigid strategies and time tables. The course recommended in the McIlvaine publication, Fossil & Nuclear Power Generation: World Analysis & Forecast is labeled “Progressive and Opportunistic Cleaner Energy.”

Sometime within the next 100 years, the fossil fuels will be depleted, while solar and other renewable technologies will be advanced to the point at which they can supply the world’s electricity. Long before fossil fuels are depleted, there will be a priority to convert them to liquid fuels. Even now it is less expensive to make gasoline from U.S. coals than to import oil at $100/barrel and refine it. If shale gas is plentiful, it would also make sense to convert it to gasoline rather than use it in power generation.

“Clean Coal” has been viewed narrowly as incorporating carbon capture and sequestration. However, there are several other equally important factors. One is conversion efficiency. It is possible to greatly reduce CO2 emissions per unit of electricity produced by use of advanced ultra-supercritical technology. Another is emission control. Coal-fired units can be fitted with pollution control equipment to remove 99 percent of the pollutants (particulate, acid gases, toxic metals and NOx).

A third factor contributing to cleaner coal is resource synergy. The large steam plume from the coal-fired power plant cooling tower is testimony to the wasted heat which could be better used to operate fish farms, grain driers, ethanol plants and any operation needing low pressure steam.

Another resource synergy has to do with fuels. If cellulosic ethanol becomes commercialized, there will be large quantities of waste biomass which can substitute for a portion of the coal. Sewage sludge and garbage can be gasified and used as “reburn” fuels in coal-fired boilers. High chlorine coals present the opportunity to make 30 percent hydrochloric acid and eliminate the pollution associated with alternative production methods.

The conclusion is that the cleanliness of coal is defined holistically to be the net emissions taking into account carbon capture, efficiency, emission capture and resource synergy. Carbon capture can be a follow on investment. Initially the focus should be on efficiency, emission capture and resource synergy.

Carbon capture and sequestration will only make sense when utilized on highly efficient boilers. Why not build the ultra-supercritical, ultra low emission units now, and then equip them with carbon capture at a later date?  Ironically, the Chinese and the Indians are already on this track, while the U.S. is only doing the research.

Due to anomalies in the legal system, environmental advocates have become their own worst enemy. By resisting the construction of any new plant, they will cause 285 GW of old coal-fired power plants to still be operating in 2035. This is the conclusion of the new EIA forecast.

U.S. Electric Generating Capacity

Fuel Capacity GW in 2035
Coal 285
Gas 408
Nuclear 112
Renewables 168
Other 27
Total 1,000

If these power plants were replaced by ultra-supercriticals, they would use 20 to 30 percent less coal and generate 20-30 percent less CO2 while emitting only 10 percent of the pollutants emitted by the old power plants.

Cost is a dominant factor in the opportunistic progressive strategy. The replacement of old coal-fired power plants with new ultra-supercriticals will be extremely cost effective. They are using 20-30 percent less coal and are 20 to 30 percent smaller than the power plants they replace. With modern control systems, they are easier to operate and maintain. As a result, the replacement can be justified with just a 25 year expected life for the new ultra-supercritical.

At the end of the 25 years, carbon capture and sequestration can be added or the plant replaced with wind or solar generators. In any case, the reduction in emissions for the next 25 years will be achieved at virtually no cost.

An ultra–supercritical coal-fired power plant burning 20 percent biomass, providing steam for synergistic industrial uses and equipped with 90 percent carbon capture, would actually be a net carbon reducer, so this would be the cleanest energy. The best solar and wind would at best be carbon neutral.

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