US National Coal Council 2019, Fall Annual Meeting

San Juan Generating Station, December 2017
Established in 1984, the National Coal Council (NCC) provides advice and recommendations to the Secretary of Energy, on general policy matters relating to coal and the coal industry. Secretary Perry commissioned the latest NCC report on ‘Coal in a new carbon age’, that is related to our own study on ‘Non energy uses of coal, CCC/291’ published in 2018.

The Fall meeting, in September, includes an open session of policy and technical presentations which is attended by the press and members of the public.

The keynote address by Neil Chatterjee, Chairman Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), focused on the resilience of the electricity grid in the USA.  He is gathering data on the robustness of the grid to unanticipated demand related to weather, potential outages and increasing variable renewable supply.  The USA has 150 coal power plants remaining since about one third of its generators have been closed, but this study is to determine the core requirement to underpin the grid.

Dr Brian Anderson Director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) described the scale of research into coal power topics highlighting seven key areas that included:

  • Carbon capture technology incorporating 3D printing techniques to reduce cost
  • Advanced sapphire crystal fibre optic temperature sensors to support work on materials for advanced ultrasupercritical coal plant technology
  • Utilisation of supercomputer multilingual literature analysis to focus research
  • The extraction of rare earth elements from coal waste streams
  • The fabrication and application of more robust carbon fibres, such as a replacement for steel in reinforced concrete.

Hal Quinn, President and CEO of the National Mining Association (NMA), considered the status of coal in the USA by putting it in the context of the history of electricity generation.

The abundance of energy has proved beneficial to the USA, which is now a fossil fuel exporter, but at the same time it has led to many company failures due to low profit margins.  The unique situation of the low gas price is particularly difficult for coal and presents a barrier to the introduction of clean coal technologies incorporating carbon capture.

There followed a session of three technical presentations.

Hilary Moffett, Senior Director Government Relations of Low Carbon Ventures, described the Occidental Petroleum programme that aims for carbon neutrality.  Carbon dioxide is already used in CCUS activities to extract oil, but collection is to be scaled up to link 57 projects in a collection system termed the CO2 Superhighway, where part of the CO2 will be injected into permanent storage in the Permian Basin, with the quantity intended to match or exceed the company’s emissions.

Jason Selch, CEO Enchant Energy, described

a new carbon capture plant in New Mexico that is a joint venture with Farmington City.  Applying Petra Nova technology, the plant would be the third and the largest so far North American coal power plant to adopt CCUS at scale.

Plans are advanced and from the project analysis the capture cost has fallen to between 39 and 43 $/t CO2.  Given the buy-in of the local community and the low carbon production of the plant, they are surprised by the negative press reports the project is receiving due to the fact that the fuel is coal.

I revisited the study on ‘Non energy uses of coal’ highlighting developments since its publication last year.  The planned expansion of coal gasification in China is at such a scale as to impact global chemical production.  New materials, especially graphene now have multiple direct fabrication routes from coal and where it was categorised as a research material, new products are now in the marketplace.  As with carbon fibre and carbon nanotubes these initial applications are often composite materials.  The potential of hydrogen as a competitor fuel to battery powered vehicles was considered. Japan’s Hydrogen Road project that included coal gasification is drawing international interest.

Find more details in the IEACCC report Non energy uses of coal here.