Utility Drive: DOE to spend additional $100M on lower emission coal plant development

Dive Brief:

  • The Department of Energy (DOE) announced on Friday up to $100 million will be invested in research to improve the national coal-fired power plant fleet to provide power with near-zero emissions.
  • Also in support of this initiative, the DOE's Office of Fossil Energy announced 13 projects that received $1.95 million in funding as part of a request for proposal issued in December for power plants with reduced emissions, increased efficiency, smaller sizes and flexibility to meet the grid's needs.
  • Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Joe Manchin, D-W.V., introduced a carbon capture bill on Thursday backed by a bipartisan group, including committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. The bill, S. 1201, would appropriate nearly $5.2 billion through FY 2024 to establish four new DOE research and development programs on carbon capture, storage and utilization and fossil fuel-burning technologies.

Dive Insight:

The Trump administration has been searching for ways to resuscitate the coal industry, pursuing the president's campaign promises to the struggling sector. The latest plan focuses on smaller, more efficient plants, rather than improving existing baseload facilities.

The effort is part of an initiative announced in November 2018 dubbed Coal FIRST (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, Transformative). On creating the initiative, the DOE said it envisions a coal fleet of small units, sized 50 to 350 MW.

The Coal FIRST initiative will help develop plants that "can adapt to the changing electrical grid," DOE Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes said in a statement.

Research and development projects for Coal FIRST will develop plants with:

  • capabilities for flexible operations;
  • smaller-scale compared to conventional plants today;
  • innovations in coal power plant design and manufacturing; and
  • improved efficiency and near-zero emissions with carbon dioxide capture.
  • Carbon capture technologies are a key focus for the Trump administration and federal lawmakers who aim to preserve coal power. The technology to reduce carbon emissions is currently too expensive for most utilities, especially amid falling prices for natural gas, renewables and battery storage.

S. 1201 seeks to establish research and development programs specifically aimed at the technology.

"Through research, development, pilot demonstrations, and commercial deployment, [the bill] will help accelerate innovation to lower emissions and extract economic value out of carbon dioxide," Murkowski said in a statement.

The Carbon Capture Coalition commended the five senators that introduced the bill, calling the federal funding a "critical component of driving down costs to accelerate commercial deployment."

Aside from this bill, a larger bipartisan group of senators is also supporting S. 383, which was reintroduced from last year and seeks to build out carbon capture infrastructure. The bill would foster economies of scale among smaller carbon capture projects and enjoys broad bipartisan support, whereas Manchin is the only democrat signed onto S. 1201.

The latter would allocate the following funds for research and development:

  • $727 million in FY 2020 and $4.3 billion total through FY 2024 for five programs to improve efficiency, effectiveness, costs and environmental performance of coal and natural gas use. Subprograms would include large-scale pilot projects.
  • $105 million in FY 2020 and $580 million total through FY 2024 for carbon storage validation and testing, including a large-scale carbon sequestration demonstration.
  • $25 million in FY 2020 and $138 million total through FY 2024 to research alternative uses for carbon dioxide, carbon capture technology and coal.
  • $45 million in FY 2020 and $181 million total through FY 2024 for carbon removal technologies, including direct air capture.
  • The Office of Fossil Energy will issue the $100 million funding opportunity announcement in August or September of this year.

By:  Iulia Gheorghiu
Source: Utility Drive