In remarks to the National Coal Council on April 12, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg stressed the importance of upgrading existing coal-fired power plants while also developing the technologies that will lay the groundwork for the coal plants of the future.
The National Coal Council is a federal advisory group that provides recommendations and guidance to the Secretary of Energy on policy issues pertaining to coal. The Council includes experts from industry and academia.
In prepared remarks to the audience in Washington, D.C., Winberg discussed the Department’s priorities for its fossil energy research and development (R&D) program, focusing on coal R&D. Citing the importance of coal-fired power generation to the Nation’s electricity grid system, he said that “the idea that we can take a critical generation source like coal off-line doesn’t make sense and is, in fact, a fantasy.”
While policy and regulatory reforms are important for ensuring coal’s competitiveness in an evolving power grid, Winberg emphasized the need for technology development to improve the efficiency of the existing fleet of coal plants and to pave the way for future plants.
“We are at the beginning of the next cycle of coal technology advancements,” Winberg said. “And we have the opportunity to make great strides in efficiency and cost improvements to the existing coal fleet, and to accelerate the development of transformational technologies that will pave the way for the coal plants of the future.”
Winberg noted that DOE’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request for coal R&D prioritizes research that will advance those goals.
Under a newly-named Advanced Coal Energy Systems and Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) Program, early-stage R&D projects managed by the Office of Fossil Energy would target a suite of advanced processes and technologies to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of existing coal plants. The goal of this research would be to enable these plants to operate on a grid that is increasingly accommodating intermittent, renewable generation.
At the same time, early research would also focus on state-of-the-art technologies and processes to advance new smaller, more flexible modular coal-fired power plants. These plants would be less expensive to build and capable of distributed generation. They would also have higher efficiency with near-zero emissions and would be strategically located to provide grid stability.
In addition to this research, Winberg noted that the Department will continue early-stage R&D on CCUS, with a focus on reducing the cost of carbon capture. Research will also explore new, innovative uses for coal, including the extraction of critical rare earth elements from coal and coal by-products.
“The bottom line is that we’re looking at a lot of exciting research that could lead to a whole new value proposition for coal — and to new industries and jobs in coal country,” he said.