Remarks of Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg as prepared for the Emissions Control Technology Workshop in Washington, D.C. on June 13, 2019
I appreciate the opportunity to kick off this important workshop on emission control technologies.
As you know, we have an intensive and robust R&D program focused on upgrading and improving our existing coal power plants, and an initiative we call Coal FIRST to develop the technologies to lay the groundwork for the small, modular plants of the future.
Both of these – modernizing the existing fleet and bringing the future fleet online – are essential to ensuring the stability, reliability, and security of America’s electric grid.
Reducing emissions from these plants is critical to achieving these goals. That’s why we’re working in the Office of Fossil Energy to create a new emissions reduction and control program focused on developing next generation, transformational control technologies for coal-fired power systems.
So, this workshop, which brings together so many experts in this area, is as important as it is timely.
Before we get started, I want to thank everyone who worked to organize today’s meeting, especially Dr. Jeff Summers from the Office of Fossil Energy, who will be leading this important new effort for us, and also the team from the National Energy Technology Laboratory, who assisted in framing the discussions for today.
I also want to thank Barry Worthington and his staff here at USEA for their support in making this workshop possible.
Thanks also to all those who are leading and contributing to the various sessions.
And finally, I want to thank all of you for being here. This workshop is critical as we map out the R&D pathways that will help us get where we need to be. So, we appreciate your engagement – and we want to hear your ideas and get your feedback.
Before we get started with today’s sessions, I want to talk a little about the big picture and the importance of advancing new emission control technologies for coal power systems.
As everyone in this room knows, we basically stopped building coal plants in the late 70s and early 1980s, so about 80 percent of our fleet is around 40 years old — and the backbone of the fleet are those plants built in the 70s.
And as these plants age, we’re seeing capacity issues and degraded performance – especially when it comes to efficiency and emissions.
So, one of our main R&D pillars is focused on upgrading our existing coal power fleet to make these plants more efficient and keep them competitive; extend their lives; and make sure that they can operate on a grid that is accommodating more and more intermittent, renewable generation.
And we need to make sure they can operate until the next generation of coal-fueled power plants are commercialized and come on line.
To get there, we’re focusing on a suite of technologies to improve the efficiency and performance of the existing fleet. And a big part of that effort requires a concentrated initiative to develop next generation emission reduction technologies.
As you know, the Department has an impressive and successful track record when it comes to power plant emissions reduction.
Our research and development in the 80s and 90s laid the groundwork for the technologies that have driven down emissions from coal plants.
Since 1990, sulfur dioxide emissions from coal plants have fallen by 92 percent – from 15.73 million tons to 1.26 million tons in 2018 – thanks to flue gas desulphurization technology we helped to develop.
We also helped develop technologies like low-NOx burners, selective catalytic reduction, and better air controls in combustion – technologies that helped drive down nitrogen dioxide emissions by 85 percent.
Today, we want to build on those historic successes by focusing on removal, containment, and by-product utilization strategies for current and future coal-fired utility and industrial applications.
So, when all's said and done, what we’re looking at is early-stage research into next generation technologies that can be further developed and scaled by industry to improve the cost competitiveness and performance of existing plants – and the future Coal FIRST fleet, as well.
And taking the first step on the path to standing up this R&D portfolio requires information and input from a broad array of industry experts and others.
That’s why we issued a Request for Information in March – to help us develop advanced pre- and post-combustion strategies to reduce and treat coal combustion residues and combustion by-products.
What we’re looking for is input on the challenges associated with new technologies or strategies to eliminate or isolate pollutants like arsenic and selenium from liquid and solid by-product and feed streams.
We’re also looking for ideas on technology strategies to reduce ash generation within these by-product management facilities, ponds, and landfills, as well as create new technologies to generate value-added products from these containment areas.
We’ve had a good response to this RFI, and we’re reviewing the submissions we’ve received.
In the meantime, we hope today’s discussions will also provide productive insights and information to help us move forward with this initiative.
So, the goal of today’s workshop is to gain an understanding of the state of the art and the potential benefits from the next generation of transformative emission reduction technologies.
Broad areas we want to explore today include removal and neutralization or containment strategies, and by-product utilization strategies.
So, we’ll be considering approaches like:
- Cost-effective reduction of risks and impacts associated with ash containment;
- Hazardous substance removal or isolation from coal combustion residues streams;
- Enhanced design and operating practices that optimize plant performance, focusing on cost-effective operation and minimal environmental impact; and
- Pathways for the production of value-added products from coal combustion residues.
At the end of the workshop, we’d like to be able to:
- Understand the challenges and additional R&D required to identify promising, early-stage reduction technologies;
- Determine which breakthroughs in emission reduction, isolation, or extraction are most beneficial; and
- Get a handle on the requirements, challenges, barriers, and R&D needs involved in integrating these technologies into an existing plant.
We also want to be able to determine whether or not we can accelerate the timeline for development – from the lab to commercial implementation – and what role advanced manufacturing technologies can play in integrating existing and transformational emission reduction technologies.
Finally, we want to identify the best technological approaches to reducing toxicity for existing ash holding facilities – and, hopefully, we’ll be able to look over a 5- to 10-year horizon at potential advances in coal ash technologies.
We’re excited about what we’re doing and where we want to go — and about the potential of this research to help us get there.
At the end of the day, getting to where we need to be will require cutting-edge R&D – and we need all hands on deck to make this happen.
This workshop is important because the discussions today will help inform the pathways that will get us to where we need to be.
So, we have a lot of work to do today. And again, I thank you for your participation and contributions, and I look forward to a productive and successful workshop.
Now, I want to turn it over to Angelos Kokkinos, our Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Clean Coal and Carbon Management.