Coal Research Needs to Be a Priority for US
It is fashionable among political pundits to declare that the rise last year in the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions was the result of forces beyond U.S. control: as high-growth countries like China and India increase their use of coal, emissions go up.
But there are factors contributing to this that we can do something about. Coal accounts for about 40 percent of global carbon emissions. Many countries with fast-growing economies, like those in Asia, place a great deal of importance on coal and look to the U.S. for leadership in developing cleaner coal-burning technologies.
As the nation with the largest coal resources and one that relies on coal for 30 percent of its electricity, we should be the world leader in the development and demonstration of advanced coal technology, including fluidized bed combustion, coal gasification, carbon capture and storage, and ultra-supercritical pulverized coal technology. But we no longer are, having forfeited that role to China, which uses more coal than the rest of the world combined and where it is the fuel of choice.
Instead of increasing funds for research, the Office of Management and Budget proposed a 55 percent cut in the budget for the Fossil Energy Research and Development program, which conducts research on advanced coal technology. It would be funded at $280 million in 2018, far lower than the 2017 funding level of $618 million. That contradicts President Trump desires to make coal production a major priority.
Those who question the value of research on coal-burning technologies ignore the likelihood that much of the world will be relying on coal for electricity production well into the future. We cannot pretend, as we are currently doing, that emission-free solar and wind power can be scaled up rapidly enough to reduce greenhouse gases from power plants to lower levels under the global Paris climate agreement by 2025. Ditto for nuclear and hydro. Instead, we should focus on real-world solutions, not dreams.
A better option than research on solar and wind – which together supply only 8 percent of U.S. electricity and even less globally – would be to shift more funding to advanced coal processing. Ultra-supercritical pulverized coal technology, for example, uses less coal and increases power-plant efficiency by as much as 50 percent compared to conventional coal plants. This technology is drawing more and more interest around the world because of its ability to generate electricity more efficiently while simultaneously curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Doing so would make it easier to develop a plan to increase wind and solar energy production as well nuclear and hydro.
An ultra-supercritical plant began operating in Arkansas in 2012. By contrast, China today has nearly 90 plants that generate electricity with this advanced technology – and more are planned. Should other countries follow suit, it would mean a promising path toward a reduction in carbon emissions from coal-burning technology.
Coal remains the dominant fuel globally for power generation. We cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t need to use research and develop more efficient coal technologies for worldwide deployment. Innovative coal technologies can help meet the demand for electricity while putting the world on a low-carbon path to keep greenhouse emissions in check. It’s dreadfully needed: 2025 is just 7 years away and there is no plan, only wishful thinking, to replace coal energy with that derived from solar and wind as well as nuclear and hydro.
See the article here.
- On July 9, 2018