|Coal Communications Kit - Technological Improvements|
Coal is the largest energy source in the United States, as well as one of the largest energy sources in the world. It is imperative that the coal industry works to ensure the continued availability and access to this life-sustaining fuel. Although claims of the negative environmental impacts of coal burning can be overstated, coal does produce potentially harmful emissions when burned. Clean coal technologies (CCT) seek to reduce environmental harm by using multiple technologies to clean coal and contain, or reduce, its emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide (Dowdey, 2007). Clean coal technologies have been built over several generations and continue to evolve. Today, there are more than 20 new, lower cost, more efficient, and environmentally compatible technologies for various industries (National Mining Association, 2015). Technology development will continue to be the primary driver for reducing emissions and its associated costs for coal’s future.
The Department of Energy (DOE) Coal RD&D program and National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), have partnered with the private sector since the early 1970’s to develop innovative technologies that greatly enhance energy production and improve air quality (National Mining Association, 2015):
Fluidized-bed combustion – Limestone and dolomite are added during the combustion process to mitigate sulfur dioxide formation. There are 170 of these units deployed in the U.S., and 400 throughout the entire world.
Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) – Heat and pressure are used to convert coal into a gas or liquid that can be further refined and used cleanly. The heat energy from the gas turbine also powers a steam turbine. IGCC has the potential to improve coal’s fuel efficiency rate to 50 percent. Two IGCC electricity generation plants are in operation in the U.S.
Flue Gas Desulfurization – Also called “scrubbers,” they remove large quantities of sulfur, other impurities, and particulate matter from emissions to prevent their release into the atmosphere.
Low Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) Burners – Reduce the creation of NOx, a cause of ground-level ozone, by restricting oxygen and manipulating the combustion process. Low NOx burners are now on 75 percent of existing coal power plants.
Electrostatic Precipitators – Remove particulates from emissions by electrically charging particles and then capturing them on collection plates.
Coal is a key component for a literally brighter future – clean coal technologies are the answer to the question of cheap, reliable energy in the U.S. and abroad.
Coal has gotten cleaner and cleaner over the past generation, utilizing the power and ingenuity of technologies like scrubbers, IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) and CCS (carbon capture and storage) to extract vital energy from coal with minimal negative environmental impact. “Power plants being built today emit 90 percent less pollutants (SO2, NOx, particulates and mercury) than the plants they replace from the 1970’s, according the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). (National Mining Association, 2015).
Objection: Environmentalists say that clean coal is a myth. Can coal ever really be clean?
Objection: CCS seems like a limited solution. How much CO2 can we actually store?
Objection: Clean Coal Technology is way too expensive. It makes more sense to invest in renewable energy sources.