IEA Supports Ultra-Supercritical Coal

While advocating the cutting of CO2 emissions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) is promoting ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants. The IEA recognizes that ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants are far more efficient than traditional coal-fired power plants which make up nearly the entire fleet of coal-fired power plants in the United States.

While the IEA supports building ultra-supercritical plants the EPA has enacted regulations that essentially prohibit building them in the United States.

Here is what the IEA says about ultra-supercritical plants.

“Coal is a low-cost, available and reliable resource, which is why it is widely used in power generation throughout the world. … Higher efficiency, lower emissions (HELE) coal technologies – including supercritical pulverized coal combustion (SC), ultra-supercritical pulverized coal combustion (USC) and integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) – must be deployed. Given that CCS technologies are not being developed or deployed quickly, the importance of deploying HELE technology to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants is even greater in the medium term.”

“By 2014, global SC and USC capacity will account for 28% of total installed capacity, an increase from 20% in 2008. Given their rapid expansion, China and India will account for more than one-half of combined SC and USC capacity.”

And the IEA highlights the role that China and India are playing in building coal-fired power plants. “Since 2000, China has more than trebled its installed capacity of coal, while India’s capacity has increased by 50%.”

Meanwhile in the United States we will, after much litigation, have completed the first ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plant in Arkansas next year. No more are being built because of the EPA’s regulations concerning CO2 emissions.

Note that the IEA laments the fact that Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is not being developed. Carbon Capture is expensive and companies and governments aren’t investing in Carbon Capture. Furthermore, people intuitively realize that sequestering CO2 underground for thousands of years is impractical. If sequestration is impractical, why invest in carbon capture?

Ultra-supercritical plants have a thermal efficiency of 44% HHV, which is a 35% improvement over traditional plants.

Ultra-supercritical plants with an efficiency of 44%HHV operate at very high temperatures and pressures, for example 1112° F and 4350 psi.

It’s anticipated that temperatures and pressures can be increased further, and that a thermal efficiency of 46% (HHV) can be achieved in the next several years. These would be referred to as Advanced Ultra-supercritical plants.

Advances in metallurgy are making these increases in temperatures and pressures possible.

In addition, properly equipped ultra-supercritical units have lower emissions. Emissions of SOx are cut by over 95%, NOx by over 85%, particulates by over 98%, while 90% of Hg is removed. CO2 emissions are nearly as low as CO2 emissions from natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants

Ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants generate electricity at low cost, around 6 or 7cents per kWh. While this can’t compete with NGCC plants with natural gas costing less than $3 per million BTU, the cost of natural gas is bound to rise, and when it does we should be building ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants as part of our energy portfolio.

If the IEA, a staunch advocate for cutting CO2 emissions,  is promoting Ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants, why shouldn’t the United Sates build them to replace less efficient, older coal-fired power plants when the price of natural gas rises, making coal competitive again.

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