Morgantown, W.Va. — Development of new carbon-capture-ready coal-fired power plants are essential to keeping coal, a proven domestic resource, in the domestic energy mix, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Although recent low natural gas prices have favored natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) for new fossil-fuel-fired power plants, the report asserts that it is reasonable to expect gas prices to rise; in this event, retaining the ability to use coal through systems that are constructed ready to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) will be essential for our nation’s continued economic prosperity.
The new report, Techno-Economic Analysis of CO2 Capture-Ready Coal-Fired Power Plants, provides findings from a study
conducted by analysts at DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). The authors evaluated options for new supercritical pulverized coal plants that capture CO2, as would be required under a new rule proposed in April 2012 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The proposed rule, Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions for New Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units, would restrict CO2 emissions from newly constructed power plants to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.
Coal-fired units would be allowed to meet the new standard either by (1) including CO2-capture technology during initial plant construction and controlling CO2 emissions from the start of operations, or (2) constructing the unit to allow for future integration of CO2-capture technology, and then controlling CO2 emissions at a level that would meet the standard, on average, over a 30‑year period. The latter compliance option, which assumes that carbon capture begins after the first 10 years of operations, is the focus of the NETL study.
The analysis showed that the economics of a CO2-capture-ready unit can be competitive with other baseload generation options, such as NGCC or nuclear. Given reasonable assumptions about advances that are likely to occur with CO2-capture technology, along with an additional revenue stream from CO2 sales for enhanced oil recovery, a supercritical CO2-capture-ready unit is competitive with NGCC at natural gas prices as low as $7.75 per million Btu. In addition, the capital cost savings of a CO2-capture-ready unit could be as much as 50–60 percent compared to new nuclear generation, according to several recent cost estimates of actual nuclear projects.