Office of Fossil Energy

Small-Scale Modular Coal-Fired Plants of the Future

May 17, 2018

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Secretary Perry Speaking at the World Coal Association Conference
Secretary Perry speaking at the World Coal Association Conference; photo courtesy of the World Coal Association

In fulfillment of its mission to ensure America’s security and prosperity through transformative science and technology solutions, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is working to advance research and development (R&D) on small-scale, modular coal-based power plants for the future.

This effort is born out of a need to ensure that the U.S. maintains an “all-of-the-above” strategy and uses all of our natural resources in a responsible manner.  The majority of U.S. coal plants, which account for about 50 percent of the coal burn, were built in the 1970sand are over 40 years old. If we are to continue using coal in the United States, we must begin to develop the next generation of coal technologies—technologies that meet the needs of the evolving electricity grid with near-zero emissions.

Coal will continue to be an integral part of domestic energy consumption in the decades to come—and it continues to play an important role in delivering energy to sustain the electrical grid. For example, this past January, during the deep freeze of the Bomb Cyclone, coal played a pivotal role in making sure that the heat and lights stayed on for millions of people across the eastern half of the United States.

That’s why, under the Office of Fossil Energy’s (FE) Advanced Coal Energy (ACE) program, the Department is advancing R&D that focuses on the coal plants of the future.   

To be able to compete with other sources of power generation, these future coal plants will need to be:

  • More modular, in the range of 50–350 megawatts
  • Highly efficient—greater than 40 percent
  • Nimble and flexible to meet the demands of a changing electrical grid
  • At near-zero emissions with minimized water consumption.

To achieve these goals, FE recently issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input from stakeholders that can help shape R&D in the design, construction, and operation of small-scale modular coal-based plants. With this feedback, FE will advance efforts to develop the coal-fired plants of the future—plants that provide stable power generation with operational flexibility, high efficiency, and low emissions.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy (ASFE) Steven Winberg spoke about the importance of this RFI in helping DOE build the coal fleet of the future, while giving remarks at a conference hosted by the World Coal Association on Wednesday, in Washington, D.C.

During the event, Secretary Perry underlined the importance of coal to not only American national security and energy independence, but also to that of other nations in Asia, Europe, and Africa, as well. “American coal is helping to bolster the energy security of all these nations and power their economic growth—just as it continues to do in the United States,” he said. Secretary Perry also encouraged industry members to commit to joining DOE in its efforts to find the innovative solutions that will support the development of small-scale modular coal plants of the future.

ASFE Winberg highlighted the need for stakeholder input in building the next-generation coal fleet, stating, “We want feedback on our technical approach, market considerations, and new approaches or perspectives we may not have considered. We expect this RFI to provide important perspectives and ideas as we begin what promises to be some very transformative work,” he said.

Learn more about the RFI HERE.