CCT 2019 – A delegate’s view

Taking CCT, the IEACCC conference on Clean Coal Technology, to the USA could be seen a little like “taking coals to Newcastle”, a pointless exercise since the USA’s own Department of Energy is one of the most active clean coal research organisations in the world. And, of course, the US has plenty of its own coal-oriented meetings, such as the long-established Pittsburgh Coal Conference. But CCT brings with it experts and delegates from around the world, all with something to teach and something to learn.

The topics covered ranged from the fundamentals of combustion, through CCS and multipollutant control systems, to alternative uses of coal. The full schedule is available online on the CCT 2019 website and papers are already available to delegates.

All sessions were well attended, with standing room only for popular topics. To be honest – the place was buzzing.

I can’t remember the last time I was at a meeting which worked quite so well and had such a feeling of engagement and enthusiasm about it. Perhaps it was the fantastic venue and funky catering options, perhaps it was the quality of the panels and speakers, whatever it was, the positive feedback from the delegates was incredible.

And the success didn’t stop with just the meeting – the site visits were fully subscribed to the point where Toby, the IEACCC lead organiser, had to lay on more buses to get as many delegates as possible to at least one of the two sites. Both locations would be top of the wish-list of anyone involved in the coal industry: – Petra Nova, the world’s largest operating CCS plant; and Net Power, the first ever demonstration of the supercritical CO2-based Allam cycle (a development in combustion that could revolutionise the sector and move it significantly closer to the zero-emission target, and one of my personal favourite things to geek out over).

In the wake of the Paris Agreement, and with the subsequent snowballing divestment from coal in the western world, the future for conventional coal combustion is bleak – and so it should be.

The industry has moved on from subcritical, baseload-only plants to advanced, clean and flexible systems which can compete with any other baseload options in terms of both cost and environmental performance.

CCT 2019 hosted papers which demonstrated the reality of the move towards higher and higher efficiencies concomitant with lower and lower emissions. No matter which published future energy/emission scenario you believe, be it the IEA WEO or the more challenging WWF/Ecofys option, it is acknowledged that coal WILL remain in the energy mix beyond 2050. But, as the papers, site-visits, and delegate interactions from CCT 2019 will attest, the skillset and will is there to ensure that the future use of coal is very different from the coal of the past.

Coal power plants can now be as clean and as flexible as gas plants, providing affordable power to regions with no gas availability and providing reliable and resilient baseload to expanding grids.

And, within the next few years, ongoing advances in combustion science and CCS technology could get us to coal plants which are modular, zero emission technologies which can be deployed quickly and efficiently to regions that need them the most. If CCT 2019 had a “feeling” about it, it was one of optimism for an industry which wishes to prove that it is moving from being a big part of the problem to being a big part of the solution.