Key Issues & Mandates
Clean Power Generation
Our Nation's economic growth and prosperity depend on reliable, plentiful, and affordable electricity. Coal – an abundant domestic energy resource – has historically met over half of U.S. electricity demand. But what will be the role of coal-based power generation in the future? Advanced technologies will help determine the answer.
NETL is leading research, development and demonstration (RD&D) initiatives designed to fundamentally redefine tomorrow's coal power systems. Technologies now under development can make future coal systems dramatically more efficient and clean than today's typical plants, while helping to keep electricity affordable. RD&D programs under way today will make possible a near-zero-emissions coal power plant in the next decade.
U.S. and global policymakers are seeking ways to leverage the economic and energy security advantages of coal, while protecting air and water quality and human health. Market and Policy Drivers >
With new technologies, our Nation can continue relying on domestic coal for economical electricity while meeting current and future environmental standards. NETL's RD&D portfolio encompasses advanced pollution controls for today's power plants as well as breakthrough technologies for tomorrow's power systems.
For existing coal power plants, NETL's RD&D focuses on advanced, cost-effective environmental controls. Areas of effort include pollutant control, characterization, monitoring, and predictive modeling, specifically addressing:
- Mercury controls that will respond to proposed emissions caps
- Controls meeting current and future limits on nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulates, including difficult-to-control fine (PM2.5) particulates
- Recycling of coal utilization byproducts (solids produced by coal combustion or gasification).
Another category of environmental controls relates to water quality. NETL is developing technologies to better manage how power plants use water and to reduce potential impacts on water quality. NETL also has extensive experience in watershed assessment, and in active and passive treatment systems for mitigating acid mine drainage and other pollutants from coal and hard-rock mining.
For the longer term, NETL is developing technologies that will enable future coal power systems to achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency and environmental performance. Much of this work addresses the next generation of central power plants. Efforts are under way in gasification, advanced combustion, turbine and heat engine technologies, and carbon sequestration. Other work focuses on distributed power generation systems – some incorporating fuel cells or microturbines – that produce electricity at the point of use. NETL efforts in coal power systems are guided by DOE's goal of developing a cost-competitive central power plant capable of 60 percent efficiency with near-zero emissions by 2020.
NETL programs encompass not only technology research and development, but also demonstrations of advanced coal-based power systems. Demonstration programs support the Clean Coal Power Initiative, introduced by President Bush in 2002. This innovative cost-shared partnership between government and industry seeks to accelerate commercial deployment of more efficient clean coal technologies for use in new and existing U.S. power plants.
A galvanizing concept that will bring together diverse NETL research streams is FutureGen. FutureGen will be a prototype plant that uses coal gasification and other advanced technologies to produce not only electricity, but hydrogen and other products – with near-zero-emissions and extraordinarily high levels of efficiency. The 275-megawatt prototype plant will serve as a large-scale engineering laboratory for testing new clean power, carbon capture, and coal-to-hydrogen technologies. It will be the cleanest fossil-fuel-fired power plant in the world.
Most NETL efforts in clean power generation are conducted through contracts with industry, other laboratories, and universities. In addition, NETL applies its onsite capabilities and facilities to support environmental controls and clean power generation concepts. Areas of focus include carbon sequestration, environmental science, and device-scale and systems modeling.