Energy Department Makes Big Investment in Carbon Reduction Projects

By Guest Contributor: Brittany Williams

As part of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Department of Energy announced Nov. 7 that it would invest $84 million in projects that help innovate carbon capture technologies and drive down the cost of these procedures for coal-fired power plants. The funds will be divvied up among 18 different projects across the United States.

“In the past four years we’ve more than doubled renewable energy generation from wind and solar power. However, coal and other fossil fuels still provide 80 percent of our energy, 70 percent of our electricity, and will be a major part of our energy future for decades,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in a DOE press release. “That’s why any serious effort to protect future generations from the worst effects of climate change must also include developing, demonstrating and deploying the technologies to use our abundant fossil fuel resources as cleanly as possible.”

This announcement came less than two months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a new set of rules limiting the amount of carbon emissions allowed from new coal-fired power plants. The agency also announced that it would be proposing rules for existing power plants in 2014. Many experts believe that these new standards are so stringent it will cause the closure of power plants, hinder the development of new facilities and have a negative impact on the supply and demand of energy in the United States.

Under these regulations power plants larger than 850 megawatts have to limit emissions to 1,100 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour. But most existing power plants average around 1,600 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour. The solution to the problem is to use carbon capture storage (CCS), which allows power plants to capture carbon emissions and store it, typically in containers underground. But this process is expensive and largely unproven at a large scale.

Hopefully, the DOE funding can help make this technology readily available and cheaper for power plants. To date, the Obama administration has invested more than $6 billion in clean coal technologies. And the projects funded by the DOE’s $84 million investment as well as cost-sharing from industry, research institutions and universities, will focus on researching and testing cleaner technologies for two types of power plants.

Research for combustion-based power plants, which burn coal or oil to generate energy, will center on carbon capture technology. Ideally, these projects will find more cost effective ways to capture carbon emission after the combustion process.

The second type of power plant, though less common, is a gasification-based electric plant. These plants use an energy generation process that eliminates the combustion step. Instead, gasification breaks coal into its basic chemical components. Three DOE-backed projects will focus on creating cheaper and more efficient pre-combustion carbon capture technologies. According to the DOE, gasification plants could reach 70 to 80 percent fuel use efficiency with the development of new processes, which would produce fewer carbon emissions and slash the cost of electricity for consumers.

Power plant image via Shutterstock.

Brittany Williams is a Copywriter for SaveOnEnergy.com. In her role, she covers controversial topics, explores renewable energy options and shares her knowledge to help others minimize their electricity bills, and in turn their carbon footprints.

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