November 14, 2018 Read More →

Ignoring skeptics, U.S. Energy Department presses forward with ‘clean coal’ initiatives

Utility Dive:

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy intends to fund competitive research and development of next-generation coal facilities in Fiscal Year 2019, as part of the federal government’s ongoing efforts to support the struggling coal industry.

DOE dubbed its efforts the Coal FIRST (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small and Transformative) initiative. The agency said it envisions a coal fleet of small units, sized 50 MW to 350 MW, with high efficiency and close-to-zero emissions.

DOE says it plans to issue three competitively-funded R&D efforts, which may ultimately culminate in the “design, construction and operation of a coal-based pilot-scale power plant.” Opponents of costly coal development have their doubts, while proponents say the fuel remains essential. But with renewables on the rise, gas cheap and battery prices falling, can anything save coal at this point?

“No one is going to build a coal plant in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. Its operational characteristics  aren’t consistent with what utilities need,” John Coequyt, Sierra Club’s global climate policy director, told Utility Dive.

DOE has laid out numerous traits it wants future coal plants to have, and will direct research to focus on plants that reduce water use, are capable of high ramp rates and minimum loads, have near-zero emissions, can also burn natural gas and and are at least 40% efficient.

A recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) predicts the U.S. will retire 15.4 GW of coal capacity this year, representing 44 generation units across 22 plants. By 2024, an additional 21.4 GW of coal capacity will go offline, according to IEEFA.

DOE announced its inquiry into coal-plant improvements in May, aiming to make them more efficient, flexible and reliable. President Donald Trump campaigned on rebuilding the declining industry, and his administration has backed multiple research initiatives into long-term improvements.

DOE expects to release a Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking “conceptual design for coal-based power plants of the future and an option to conduct a preliminary front end engineering design,” sometime this month.

That would be followed by a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for cost-shared research and development focused on steam turbines that can be integrated into a 50 MW to 350 MW “future advanced coal plant design.” DOE expects to issue the announcement in the second quarter of next year. And a FOA for cost-shared R&D projects focused on critical components and advanced approaches will likely have two closings. The announcement is expected in the third quarter of FY2019.

In its announcement, DOE said the Coal FIRST initiative “will make coal-fired power plants in the future more adaptive to the modern electrical grid.”

More: DOE to fund ‘Coal FIRST’ initiative, critics say it’s political not practical

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