Government to consult on the use of a cleaner coal demonstration plant

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has launched a consultation on the viability of ‘cleaner coal’ technologies (CCT), and whether government money should be spent on demonstration schemes.

The consultation paper, Review of the Case for Government Support for Commercial Scale Cleaner Coal Demonstration Plant, is designed to help pinpoint the most appropriate technical solutions to coal for the UK, identifying the viability of CCT – those that improve the environmental acceptability of coal extraction, preparation and use, particularly for power generation – as one of a number of sustainable energy technologies, the importance of demonstration schemes, and whether government funding for such projects is desirable. Such technology includes those that cut the emission of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates, including those that increase efficiency, and also encompasses ways of extracting energy from coal in a less environmentally damaging way, such as by underground gasification.

Although CCT cannot compete on aspects such as sustainability – without carbon dioxide capture and storage, or even carbon intensity of the fuel, with gas-fired combined cycle turbine (CCGT) plants – it may offer the prospect of reducing carbon dioxide emissions whilst maintaining security of supply, says the DTI. If existing coal plants are decommissioned without being replaced by newer coal technology, the fuel’s share of the energy market could fall to 15% or less by 2010. By 2020, the country’s existing nuclear power plants are also expected to have reached the end of their life-spans, and it is still unclear what the contribution of renewable energy sources will be by this time, says the DTI. This could mean that the UK will become increasingly dependent on external sources of energy.

There are four main options for government-funded CCT demonstration schemes, says the DTI:

  • retrofitting CCT components to existing combustion plants to improve thermal efficiency, or capture and store carbon dioxide;
  • retrofitting coal gasification plant to an existing combined cycle station, converting it to an integrated coal gasification combined cycle plant (IGCC);
  • the construction of a new CCT combustion plant on a brownfield site; and
  • the construction of a new gasification plant on a brownfield site.

It is expected that a CCT demonstration plant would take from two to six years to build, and a further ten years or more for the deployment of commercial clean coal technology. Although the first option would provide results in a much shorter length of time, it will also produce much shorter-term solutions than the latter two options.

The survey is being carried out in response to the conclusions of a 1998 White Paper on energy sources for power generation that recommended the review of the case for supporting the construction of a cleaner coal technology demonstration plant before 2003. The Government has now decided to bring the review date forward so that it can be included in the Prime Minister’s Energy Policy review announced in June (see related story).

Comments on the document should be sent by 1 October to: Brian Morris, Room 179, Energy Policy Directorate, Department of Trade and Industry, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET; tel – 020 7215 6110; fax – 020 7215 2601; email – [email protected].

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