Framing tomorrow’s energy landscape


By Stuart Price, Contributing Writer

Jan. 9, 2004 — “The coal industry should stop apologizing,” said Anne Korin, director of strategic planning with the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, during her presentation at the “Clean Coal and Power Conference” in Washington, DC (November 17 – 19, 2003).

“Environment is nice, but national security concerns are more pressing. The industry needs to make its case to the American people and change the terms of the debate. Coal-based transportation fuels reduce our vulnerability to catastrophic oil supply disruption by terrorists and bring jobs back to America.”

About 250 people attended this conference, organized by the U.S. Department of Energy in conjunction with the People’s Republic of China and several private parties. Speakers explained how commercial clean coal technologies and corresponding federal activities seek to maintain coal as the nation’s premier energy resource.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham helped kick off the conference. He stressed how government resources can promote and help fund clean coal R&D, but that private companies, universities, and private research facilities also need to step up to the plate to bring research findings to the marketplace.

The following summarizes major points of the conference.

Public outreach

One of the most significant challenges facing the coal industry involves reaching out to specific stakeholders, and the public at-large, to explain how coal can continue to serve as the foundation of our energy infrastructure. Dr. Lowell Miller, DOE director of coal fuels, explained how one of his agency’s primary objectives involves developing hydrogen as a fuel-for-the-future.

He stressed that, while we must develop multiple resources to produce fuel-grade hydrogen, one of his primary communication needs involves explaining how coal feedstock is best suited to lead this effort due to its abundance.

Steve Miller, president and CEO of the Center for Energy and Economic Development, explained how coal has provided a strong economic foundation for the nation and how current industry needs offer distinct investment opportunities.

He further stated that industry priorities include reaching out to distinguished stakeholders (i.e., persons in position to make energy policy [like members of Congress, environmental regulators, and local planners]) and opinion leaders across the nation to make sure they understand the benefits of coal and the latest industry accomplishments.

FutureGen

The “FutureGen” initiative involves a $1 billion government/industry partnership to design, build, and operate a 275-MW prototype coal-fired plant that will generate electricity and fuel-grade hydrogen. Carbon capture and sequestration systems will be critical, cutting-edge technologies needed to help make this facility an emissions-free plant.

Dr. Victor Der, DOE director of power systems, explained how prototype plant technologies will involve coal gasification, rather than traditional coal combustion, and how the plant will need to convert carbon into a synthesis gas comprising hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

Dr. Der explained how one FutureGen objective is to develop a first-of-a-kind coal gasification system (possibly requiring novel membranes) that will produce distinct carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas streams.

Advanced technology would then be used to react the synthesis gas with steam to produce hydrogen and CO2 streams. Captured CO2 could be permanently sequestered in geologic formations like depleted oil and gas reservoirs, non-mineable coal seams, deep saline aquifers, and basalt formations.

The hydrogen could then power fuel cells or serve as refinery feedstock.

Environmental science

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program involves gathering comprehensive data needed to model, predict, and assess climate variability and change and their potential environmental, economic, and social consequences.

The program includes research on climate variability and change, the global carbon cycle, atmospheric composition, the global water cycle, ecosystems, and human contributions to climate change. Scientists, of course, have linked coal usage with CO2 emissions, CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere, and subsequent climate change effects.

Dr. Jerry Elwood, DOE director of climate change research, explained how this policy-neutral program involves conducting premier scientific research, enhancing observation and data management systems, basing decisions on science-based findings, and communicating results to domestic and international stakeholders.

Brian McLean, EPA director of atmospheric programs, explained how his agency implements market-based, cap-and-trade programs to mitigate specific emissions including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. While EPA does not take part in actual trades, it does serve as the official record keeper of source emissions and their tradable authorizations to emit SO2 and NOx.

He explained how this market-based trading program is largely credited with helping reduce acid precipitation in the Northeast by establishing a hard ceiling for emissions. In fact, Mr. McLean also said that the People’s Republic of China has already adopted a ceiling on SO2 emissions and is considering implementation of a trading program to help control its own acid precipitation.

Price (svprice@comcast.net) is principal with RSVP Communications in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. For over seventeen years, he has built energy, environmental, and engineering outreach programs for federal agencies, contractors, power utilities, and trade associations.

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