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US Department of Energy to fund R&D into coal generation technologies

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World Coal,

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has announced its intent to fund competitive research and development (R&D) efforts in FY19 that will advance first-of-a-kind coal generation technologies.

This effort—the Coal FIRST (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, Transformative) initiative—will develop the coal plant of the future needed to provide secure, stable, and reliable power. This R&D will underpin coal-fired power plants that are capable of flexible operations to meet the needs of the grid; use innovative and cutting-edge components that improve efficiency and reduce emissions; provide resilient power to Americans; are small compared to today’s conventional utility-scale coal; and will transform how coal technologies are designed and manufactured.

Changes to the US electricity industry are forcing a paradigm shift in how the nation’s generating assets are operated. Coal-fired power plants optimised as baseload resources are being increasingly relied on as load-following resources to support electricity generated from intermittent renewable capacity, as well as to provide critical ancillary services to the grid. In addition, wide-scale retirements of the nation’s existing fleet of coal-fired power plants—without replacement—may lead to a significant undermining of the resiliency of America’s electricity supply. Nevertheless, the need for considerable dispatchable generation, critical ancillary services, and grid reliability—combined with potentially higher future natural gas prices, and energy security concerns, such as the importance of onsite fuel availability during extreme weather events—create the opportunity for advanced coal-fired generation, for both domestic and international deployment. These fundamental changes to the operating and economic environment in which coal plants function are expected to persist into the next decade and beyond. Deployment of new coal plants will require a different way of thinking.

To that end, DOE envisions that the future coal fleet may be based on electricity generating units possessing many of the following traits:

  • High overall plant efficiency (40%+ HHV or higher at full load, with minimal reductions in efficiency over the required generation range)
  • Small (unit sizes of approximately 50 to 350 MW), maximising the benefits of high-quality, low-cost shop fabrication to minimise field construction costs, and project cycle time
  • Near-zero emissions, with options to consider plant designs that inherently emit no or low amounts of carbon dioxide (amounts that are equal to or lower than natural gas technologies) or could be retrofitted with carbon capture without significant plant modifications
  • Capable of high ramp rates and minimum loads commensurate with estimates of renewable market penetration by 2050
  • Integration with thermal or other energy storage (e.g., chemical production) to ease intermittency inefficiencies and equipment damage
  • Minimised water consumption
  • Reduced design, construction, and commissioning schedules from conventional norms by leveraging techniques including but not limited to advanced process engineering and parametric design methods for modular design
  • Enhanced maintenance features including technology advances with monitoring and diagnostics to reduce maintenance and minimise forced outages
  • Integration with coal upgrading, or other plant value streams (e.g., co-production)
  • Capable of natural gas co-firing.

In FY19, DOE plans to issue three competitively-funded R&D efforts, which may ultimately culminate in the design, construction, and operation of a coal-based pilot-scale power plant. These efforts—informed by a Request for Information that DOE issued in May 2018—are as follows:

1. A Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking conceptual design for coal-based power plants of the future and an option to conduct a preliminary front end engineering design (Pre-FEED). To achieve this end, DOE encourages broad teaming arrangements that engage A/E firms, technology developers, equipment manufacturers, and end users. The solicitation is anticipated to be issued in November 2018.

2. A Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for cost-shared research and development R&D projects focused on steam turbines that can be integrated into a 50-350 MW future advanced coal plant design. The FOA is anticipated to be issued in the second quarter of FY19.

3. A FOA for cost-shared R&D projects focused on critical components and advanced approaches (e.g., manufacturing, fabrication, advanced design) that are needed to support a future coal plant. This FOA is expected to have two closings. The objectives and scope of the first closing will be informed by the conceptual designs completed under contracts awarded under the RFP. Likewise, the objectives and scope of the second closing will be informed by the Pre-FEED studies completed under contracts awarded under the RFP. The FOA is anticipated to be issued in the third quarter of FY19.

The Coal FIRST initiative will make coal-fired power plants in the future more adaptive to the modern electrical grid. The initiative will integrate early-stage R&D on power plant components with currently available technologies into a first-of-a-kind system. Through innovative technologies and advanced approaches to design and manufacturing, the initiative will look beyond today’s utility-scale power plant concepts (e.g. base-load units) in ways that integrate with the electrical grid in the US and internationally.

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