In the United States, coal which is primarily used for electricity generation is the second largest contributor of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas contributing to environmental pollution, and sulfur dioxide responsible for causing acid rains.
Clean coal technology aims to reduce the environmental impact of coal energy generation by making the coal burn clean.
The importance of clean coal technology is that it could greatly reduce the US dependence on the use of foreign oil thereby providing energy security, and making a positive environmental impact.
If clean burning coal were to become a primary and environmentally clean source for generating electricity, then this technology could be combined with energy storage materials such as high capacity batteries that could be used in the electric vehicles, and other industries.
Although, there is Vattenfall, a clean burning coal testing plant that was built in Germany in 2008 by the Swedish firm, it is not clear how economically feasible this technology is today. Another implication is that there is no clear way to dispose off carbon dioxide that is collected from the use of clean coal burning technology.
If the clean coal burning technology does not reach the level of economic feasibility, then there will be a potential for great disruptions due to the limited amounts of crude oil. There’s also a risk that many countries that have a lot of coal to burn will continue doing so without really addressing the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.
Research and development to overcome CCS challenges
The biggest challenge in the clean coal burning technology lies in carbon dioxide capture and storage process (CCS). There are three principal ways to capture CO2 produced in power plants: Oxyfuel combustion, post-combustion and precombustion. There is currently a test plant in operation built by vattenfall in Germany. The tests are performed to evaluate the technology of Oxyfuel combustion before building a larger scale demonstration plant.
It seems likely that there will be more clean burning coal plants built and implemented throughout the world and potentially in the U.S through the governmental push, but it is hard to say if this technology will actually reach the level of economic feasibility, and if a solution can be found to dispose of the collected carbon dioxide gases.
My prediction is that clean burning coal technology may become more advanced, but I do not believe that that will be fully integrated as a viable source of clean electricity generation by 2025. Yet, I think that scientific advances made during this period will make this technology more feasible in the future. Further, just as the ongoing research and development can potentially make clean coal burning technology more feasible in the future, so will the advances in the wind farms, geothermal energy, solar technology, and nuclear power generation.
Other Alternatives to Hedge against potential Coal Technology Failure:
I think wind farms in particular have a strong potential to become a viable source of alternative energy. My belief is supported by the fact that wind power has become the second largest source of alternative energy after biomass derived energy in the United Kingdom. There is no reason why this technology could not become more integrated in the United States.
Also, I believe that nuclear power plants which accounted for 19.6% of the total electric energy consumption in the U.S in 2008, will become even more integrated thereby providing a solid hedge in case the clean coal technology never reaches the level of economic feasibility.