• Overview of coal burning technology in development outlines possible future for the fuel

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

Power Magazine has given an overview of the features coal-fired power plants will need to exhibit to be included in future energy mixes, and what is currently being done to achieve them, with a focus on the US. Five features are identified – high plant efficiency, smallness and/or modularity (at 50-350 MWe, making a short build time), near-zero emissions, high flexibility (to enable fast responsiveness to rapidly-changing grid demands), and enhanced operations and maintenance (to reduce downtime). Various research and development projects are currently underway. Amongst them is 8 Rivers Capital’s project to integrate coal-gasification with the Allam cycle (which uses supercritical CO2 as the operating fluid) to achieve a net plant efficiency in the mid-high 40%s. Another is a collaboration between Echogen Power Systems, the Gas Technology Institute, and the Electric Power Research Institute to study a coal-fired plant that incorporates supercritical CO2, pressurized fluidized bed combustion, and electrothermal energy storage (which heats a media, for instance volcanic stones, which can later be used to produce steam). A number of oxy-combustion and chemical looping combustion research projects are also underway, all of them interesting in individual ways. For existing plants, most research is concentrating on improving efficiency and flexibility, though flexibility will always depend on the grid and market context. Research is also being conducted into using the possibilities of digital technologies to improve component manufacturing, with the prospect of considerably more efficient heat exchangers, burners more suited to hydrogen combustion, and better anodes and cathodes for use in solid oxide fuel cells. Artificial intelligence for power plant tuning is another aspect of current research. The article is worth reading in full and provides considerable grounds to believe that coal firing will be significantly better in the future.