US coal production was strong from the 1990s until 2014, with coal production each year being near or above 1 billion short tons (a “short ton” is 2,000 pounds). The highest annual level of production was achieved in 2008: 1.17 billion short tons. Since then, the coal industry has seen a steady decline in production, and trends indicate that the decline will continue.
In their 10 July 2019 report, “Almost all US coal production is consumed by electric power,” the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that coal is still one of the main sources of energy in the US, accounting for 16% of the nation’s primary energy production in 2018. Nearly all of the coal consumed in the US is produced domestically, and most is consumed by the electric power sector to generate electricity, while some is exported. The following EIA “coal flow” diagram shows where the coal comes from and (approximately) how it was consumed in 2018. Total production was about 755 million short tons. The electric power sector consumed about 84% of production, with only modest amounts being consumed by the industrial sector or exported.
Electricity generation from coal has been on the decline in the US for almost two decades. On 26 June 2019, EIA reported that US electricity generation from renewables surpasses coal in April 2019. In the following EIA chart, you can see the long-term increase in generation from renewables, which contrasts sharply with the long-term decline of generation from coal due to the decommissioning of many coal-fired power plan and the commissioning of no plants since about 2014.
Between 2010 and the first quarter of 2019, US power companies announced the retirement of more than 546 coal-fired power units, totaling about 102 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity. Plant owners intend to retire another 17 GW of coal-fired capacity by 2025. You’ll find the EIA’s 26 July 2019 report on decommissioning US coal-fired power plants here: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=40212
In April 2017, EIA reported that on the age of the US coal-fired generating plant fleet. The following chart shows the distribution of coal-fired plants based on their initial operating year. EIA reported a fleet average age of 39 years in 2017.
The following table lists EIA data on the numbers of different types of generating plants in the US between 2007 and 2017. In 2007, the US had 606 coal-fired generating plants. By the end of 2017, that number had dropped to 359.
In my 19 December 2016 post, “What to do with Carbon Dioxide,” I provided an overview of the following three technologies being developed for underground storage (sequestration) or industrial utilization of carbon dioxide:
Store in basalt formations by making carbonate rock
In the past two years, significant progress has been made in the development of processes to convert gaseous carbon dioxide waste streams into useful products. This post is intended to highlight some of the advances being made and provide links to additional current sources of information on this subject.
1. Carbon XPrize: Transforming carbon dioxide into valuable products
The NRG / Cosia XPrize is a $20 million global competition to develop breakthrough technologies that will convert carbon dioxide emissions from large point sources like power plants and industrial facilities into valuable products such as building materials, alternative fuels and other items used every day. You’ll find details on this competition on the XPrize website at the following link:
The competition is now in the testing and certification phase. Each team is expected to scale up their pilot systems by a factor of 10 for the operational phase, which starts in June 2019 at the Wyoming Integrated Test Center and the Alberta (Canada) Carbon Conversion Technology Center.
The teams will be judged by the amount of carbon dioxide converted into usable products and the value of those products. We’ll have to wait until the spring of 2020 for the results of this competition.
2. World’s largest post-combustion carbon capture project
Post-combustion carbon capture refers to capturing carbon dioxide from flue gas after a fossil fuel (e.g., coal, natural gas or oil) has been burned and before the flue gas is exhausted to the atmosphere. You’ll find a 2016 review of post-combustion carbon capture technologies in the paper by Y. Wang, et al., “A Review of Post-combustion Carbon DioxideCapture Technologies from Coal-fired Power Plants,” which is available on the ScienceDirect website here:
In January 2017, NRG Energy reported the completion of the Petra Nova post-combustion carbon capture project, which is designed to remove 90% of the carbon dioxide from a 240 MW “slipstream” of flue gas at the existing W. A. Parish generating plant Unit 8. The “slipstream” represents 40% of the total flue gas flow from the coal-fired 610 MW Unit 8. To date, this is the largest post-combustion carbon capture project in the world. Approximately 1.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide will be captured annually using a process jointly developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) and the Kansai Electric Power Co. The US Department of Energy (DOE) supported this project with a $190 million grant.
The DOE reported: “The project will utilize a proven carbon capture process, which uses a high-performance solvent for carbon dioxideabsorption and desorption. The captured carbon dioxide will be compressed and transported through an 80 mile pipeline to an operating oil field where it will be utilized for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and ultimately sequestered (in the ground).”
You’ll find more information on the Petra Nova project at the following links:
3. Pilot-scale projects to convert carbon dioxideto synthetic fuel
Thyssenkrupp pilot project for conversion of steel mill gases into methanol
In September 2018, Thyssenkrupp reported that it had “commenced production of the synthetic fuel methanol from steel mill gases. It is the first time anywhere in the world that gases from steel production – including the carbon dioxide they contain – are being converted into chemicals. The start-up was part of the Carbon2Chem project, which is being funded to the tune of around 60 million euros by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)……..‘Today the Carbon2Chem concept is proving its value in practice,’ said Guido Kerkhoff, CEO of Thyssenkrupp. ‘Our vision of virtually carbon dioxide-free steel production is taking shape.’”
Berkeley Laboratory developing a copper catalyst that yields high efficiency carbon dioxide-to-fuels conversion
The DOE Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has been engaged for many years in creating clean chemical manufacturing processes that can put carbon dioxide to good use. In September 2017, Berkeley Lab announced that its scientists has developed a new electrocatalyst comprised of copper nanoparticles that can directly convert carbon dioxide into multi-carbon fuels and alcohols (e.g., ethylene, ethanol, and propanol) using record-low inputs of energy. For more information, see the Global Energy World article here:
The term negative emissions technology (NET) refers to an industrial processes designed to remove and sequester carbon dioxidedirectly from the ambient atmosphere rather than from a large point source of carbon dioxide generation (e.g. the flue gas from a fossil-fueled power generating station or a steel mill). Think of a NET facility as a carbon dioxideremoval “factory” that can be sited independently from the sources of carbon dioxide generation.
The Swiss firm Climeworks is in the business of developing carbon dioxideremoval factories using the following process:
“Our plants capture atmospheric carbon with a filter. Air is drawn into the plant and the carbon dioxide within the air is chemically bound to the filter. Once the filter is saturated with carbon dioxide it is heated (using mainly low-grade heat as an energy source) to around 100 °C (212 °F). The carbon dioxide is then released from the filter and collected as concentrated carbon dioxide gas to supply to customers or for negative emissions technologies. Carbon dioxide-free air is released back into the atmosphere. This continuous cycle is then ready to start again. The filter is reused many times and lasts for several thousand cycles.”
This process is shown in the following Climeworks diagram:
You’ll find more information on Climeworks on their website here:
In 2017, Climeworks began operation in Iceland of their first pilot facility to remove carbon dioxide from ambient air and produce concentrated carbon dioxide that is injected into underground basaltic rock formations, where the carbon dioxide gets converted into carbonite minerals in a relatively short period of time (1 – 2 years) and remains fixed in the rock. Climeworks uses waste heat from a nearby geothermal generating plant to help run their carbon capture system. This process is shown in the following diagram.
This small-scale pilot facility is capable of removing only about 50 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year, but can be scaled up to a much larger facility. You’ll find more information on this Climeworks project here:
In October 2018, Climeworks began operation in Italy of another pilot-scale NET facility designed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This facility is designed to remove 150 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year and produce a natural gas product stream from the atmospheric carbon dioxide, water, and electricity. You’ll find more information on this Climeworks project here:
5. Consensus reports on waste stream utilization and negative emissions technologies (NETs)
The National Academies Press (NAP) recently published a consensus study report entitled, “Gaseous Carbon Waste Streams Utilization, Status and Research Needs,” which examines the following processes:
Mineral carbonation to produce construction material
Chemical conversion of carbon dioxideinto commodity chemicals and fuels
Biological conversion (photosynthetic & non-photosynthetic) of carbon dioxide into commodity chemicals and fuels
Methane and biogas waste utilization
The authors note that, “previous assessments have concluded that …… > 10 percent of the current global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions….could feasibly be utilized within the next several decades if certain technological advancements are achieved and if economic and political drivers are in place.”
You can download a free pdf copy of this report here:
Also on the NAP website is a prepublication report entitled, “Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration.” The authors note that NETs “can have the same impact on the atmosphere and climate as preventing an equal amount of carbon dioxide from being emitted from a point source.”
You can download a free pdf copy of this report here:
In this report, the authors note that recent analyses found that deploying NETs may be less expensive and less disruptive than reducing some emissions at the source, such as a substantial portion of agricultural and land-use emissions and some transportation emissions. “ For example, NAPs could be a means for mitigating the methane generated from enteric fermentation in the digestive systems of very large numbers of ruminant animals (e.g., in the U.S., primarily beef and dairy cattle). For more information on this particular matter, please refer to my 31 December 2016 post, “Cow Farts Could be Subject to Regulation Under a New California Law,”which you’ll find here:
I was impressed in 2007 by the following chart in Scientific American, which shows where our energy in the U.S. comes from and how the energy is used in electricity generation and in four consumer sectors. One conclusion is that more than half of our energy is wasted, which is clearly shown in the bottom right corner of the chart. However, this result shouldn’t be surprising.
Source: Scientific American / Jen Christiansen, using LLNL & DOE 2007 data
The waste energy primarily arises from the efficiencies of the various energy conversion cycles being used. For example, the following 2003 chart shows the relative generating efficiencies of a wide range of electric power sources. You can see in the chart that there is a big plateau at 40% efficiency for many types of thermal cycle power plants. That means that 60% of the energy they used is lost as waste heat. The latest combined cycle plants have demonstrated net efficiencies as high as 62.22% (Bouchain, France, 2016, see details in my updated 17 March 2015 post, “Efficiency in Electricity Generation”).
Source: Eurelectric and VGB PowerTech, July 2003
Another source of waste is line loss in electricity transmission and distribution from generators to the end-users. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that electricity transmission and distribution losses average about 6% of the electricity that is transmitted and distributed.
There is an expanded, interactive, zoomable map of U.S. energy data that goes far beyond the 2007 Scientific American chart shown above. You can access this interactive map at the following link:
The interactivity in the map is impressive, and the way it’s implemented encourages exploration of the data in the map. You can drill down on individual features and you can explore particular paths in much greater detail than you could in a physical chart containing the same information. Below are two example screenshots. The first screenshot is a top-level view. As in the Scientific American chart, energy sources are on the left and final disposition as energy services or waste energy is on the right. Note that waste energy is on the top right of the interactive map.
The second screenshot is a more detailed view of natural gas production and utilization.
As reported by Lulu Chang on the digitaltrends.com website, this interactive map was created by Saul Griffith at the firm Otherlab (https://otherlab.com). You can read her post at the following link:
On 9 January 2014 the Administration launched a “Quadrennial Energy Review” (QER) to examine “how to modernize the Nation’s energy infrastructure to promote economic competitiveness, energy security, and environmental responsibility…” You can read the Presidential Memorandum establishing the QER at the following link:
On April 21, 2015, the QER Task Force released the “first installment” of the QER report entitled “Energy Transmission, Storage, and Distribution Infrastructure.” The Task Force announcement stated:
“The first installment (QER 1.1) examines how to modernize our Nation’s energy infrastructure to promote economic competitiveness, energy security, and environmental responsibility, and is focused on energy transmission, storage, and distribution (TS&D), the networks of pipelines, wires, storage, waterways, railroads, and other facilities that form the backbone of our energy system.”
The complete QER 1.1 report or individual chapters are available at the following link:
On January 6, 2017, the QER Task Force released the “second installment” of the QER report entitled “Transforming the Nation’s Electricity System.” The Task Force announcement stated:
“The second installment (QER 1.2) finds the electricity system is a critical and essential national asset, and it is a strategic imperative to protect and enhance the value of the electricity system through modernization and transformation. QER 1.2 analyzes trends and issues confronting the Nation’s electricity sector out to 2040, examining the entire electricity system from generation to end use, and within the context of three overarching national goals: (1) enhance economic competitiveness; (2) promote environmental responsibility; and (3) provide for the Nation’s security.
The report provides 76 recommendations that seek to enable the modernization and transformation of the electricity system. Undertaken in conjunction with state and local governments, policymakers, industry, and other stakeholders, the recommendations provide the building blocks for longer-term, planned changes and activities.”
The complete QER 1.2 report or individual chapters are available at the following link:
I hope you take time to explore the QERs. I think the Task Force has collected a great deal of actionable information in the two reports. Converting this information into concrete actions will be a matter for the next Administration.