18 June 2019

While coal power is on the way out in many parts of the world – with the UK, for example, having recently celebrated one week without any coal generated power on the grid – the current US administration remains enthusiastic about it and continues to put not insignificant sums into coal related research and development, as a recent plethora of US Department of Energy (DOE) funding announcements testifies.

On 12 April the US Department of Energy (DOE) announced planned investments amounting to around $100 million in the Coal FIRST (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, and Transformative) initiative, which “aims to develop coal plants of the future that will provide secure, stable, reliable power with near zero emissions.”

“Coal is an abundant, affordable, resilient, and reliable energy source that, through innovation, will continue to be an important part of the US portfolio for decades to come”, said under secretary of energy Mark W. Menezes. “The Department’s Coal FIRST initiative is helping the nation secure its domestic power supply by developing plants that are not only more reliable, resilient, efficient, and near zero emissions, but that can adapt to the changing electrical grid.”

Under the Coal FIRST initiative, the Department of Energy says it is supporting research and development projects that will help develop coal plants that:

  • are capable of flexible operations to meet the needs of the grid;
  • use innovative and cutting-edge components that enable improved efficiency and have near zero emissions, with carbon dioxide capture;
  • provide “resilient power to Americans”;
  • are small [50-350 MW range] compared to today’s conventional utility-scale coal; and
  • “transform how coal power plant technologies are designed and manufactured.”

The $100 million announced in April is intended for a programme called Critical Components for Coal FIRST Power Plants of the Future. This will be subject of a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to be issued in August or September by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy. The anticipated FOA will make available “up to approximately $100 million in federal funding for cost-shared R&D projects that focus on developing the critical components required by Coal FIRST systems.” The R&D projects may also “include the development of advanced processes for manufacturing or fabricating components”, says DOE.

“The Coal FIRST initiative will integrate early- stage R&D on power plant components with currently available technologies into a first-of-a- kind system,” said assistant secretary for fossil energy Steven Winberg. “Through innovative technologies and advanced approaches to design and manufacturing, the initiative will look beyond today’s utility-scale power plant concepts (eg, baseload units) in ways that integrate with the electrical grid in the United States and internationally.”

Conceptual designs

DOE also announced on 12 April that it had selected 13 projects to receive approximately $1.95 million in federal funding for conceptual designs under the request for proposals for Coal- Based Power Plants of the Future. DOE says it has the option to request that any of the projects conduct pre-FEED studies to prove the technical and economic feasibility of the approach identified in the conceptual design.

The National Energy Technology Laboratory will manage the projects, to be performed by the following recipients:

  1. 8 Rivers Capital LLC (Durham, NC) — DOE funding $149 147;
  2. Allegheny Science & Technology (Pittsburgh, PA) — DOE funding $149 998;
  3. Barr Engineering Co (Minneapolis, MN) — Concept 1, DOE funding $150 000;
  4. Barr Engineering Co (Minneapolis, MN) — Concept 2, DOE funding $150 000;
  5. CONSOL Pennsylvania Coal Company (Canonsburg, PA) — DOE funding $147 000;
  6. Constantem Technologies (Pensacola, FL) — DOE funding $150 000
  7. Echogen Power Systems (Akron, OH) — DOE funding $150 000
  8. Electric Power Research Institute (Palo Alto, CA) — DOE funding $150 000
  9. Hydrogen Energy California (Concord, MA) — DOE funding $150 000
  10. Nexant Inc (San Francisco, CA) — DOE funding $150 000
  11. Washington University (St. Louis, MO) — DOE Funding: $150,000
  12. Wormser Energy Solutions Inc (Lancaster, MA) — Concept 1, DOE funding $150,000
  13. Wormser Energy Solutions Inc (Lancaster, MA) — Concept 2, DOE funding $150 000

Advanced coal technologies

Just a couple of days before, on 10 April, DOE had announced the availability of up to $87.3 million in federal funding for another set of cost-shared R&D projects, this time, somewhat confusingly, for “advanced coal technologies”, falling under five separate funding opportunity announcements:

1. Advancing Steam Turbine Performance for Coal Boilers: This FOA seeks to improve the performance of steam-based power cycles, resulting in a lower cost of electricity with reduced emissions per MWh for coal-fuelled boilers. This FOA also includes an area of interest for conceptual engineering design for steam turbines in the 50–350 MW range in support of DOE’s Coal FIRST initiative. DOE funding: up to $22 million.

2. Transformational Sensing Systems for Monitoring the Deep Subsurface: This FOA seeks to reduce uncertainty and enable real-time decision making associated with subsurface carbon dioxide (CO2) storage. DOE funding: up to $4.8 million.

3. Crosscutting Research for Coal-Fueled Power Plants: This FOA aims to develop innovative technologies that will enhance the performance and economics of the existing and future coal fleet—thereby lowering electricity costs for consumers. DOE funding: up to $14.5 million.

4. Advanced Materials for High-Efficiency, Flexible and Reliable Coal-Fueled Power Plants: This FOA will reduce the cost and enhance the cyclic durability of materials used in advanced ultrasupercritical power plants. These advanced materials are critical to increasing the efficiency and reliability of coal- fueled power plants. DOE funding: up to $26 million.

5. Process Scale-Up and Optimization/ Efficiency Improvements for Rare Earth Elements (REE) and Critical Materials (CM) Recovery from Coal-Based Resources: This FOA will support co-operative agreements to advance the development of technologies for recovery of REEs and CMs from US domestic coal-based resources through both novel and conventional extraction, separation, and recovery processes. DOE funding: up to $20 million.

Steven Winberg announced this R&D funding at NETL’s annual project review meeting for “crosscutting, rare earth elements, gasification, and transformative power generation.”

“The goal with these projects is to ensure that the United States can have a fleet of coal-fired power plants that provides stable power generation with operational flexibility, high efficiency, low emissions, and lower costs for consumers,” said Winberg. “By investing in this R&D, we will enable the United States to continue maximising its domestic energy resources while protecting our supply of reliable and affordable electricity.” 

NET Power Allam Cycle demo facility. NET Power is majority owned by 8 Rivers Capital, one of the recipients of DOE funding under its Coal-Based Power Plants of the Future initative

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