New technology is required to make meaningful progress on climate change. This column will focus on one of those options: making coal power greener.
Coal will be a part of the international energy equation for decades to come. While domestic coal consumption is decreasing, worldwide consumption is still trending upwards. For many regions, coal is a plentiful, inexpensive feedstock and it is often the only option available for energy generation. Any pragmatic approach to attacking the global problem of climate change must include a way for developing economies to continue to use coal in an environmentally sustainable way.
Researchers are exploring several options to reduce emissions from burning coal. One approach is pre-combustion capture which separates the CO2 after gasifying the coal. It is less expensive and more efficient to capture the carbon dioxide on the front-end of the process than to add CO2 capture equipment on the back-end of a traditional power plant.
Another alternative is burning coal in recirculated flue gas and oxygen rather than air. This changes the chemistry of the emissions, eliminates the nitrogen, and recycles most of the CO2 so that it is not emitted.
Industry and government have invested in research, demonstrations and pilot projects to test these technologies. Depending on the results it could be a real game changer for power generation.