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Fossil-fueled Power


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Table of Contents

PPRG Contents

Major Topic Sections

Fossil-fueled Power
Non-Fossil Generation
End-Use Efficiency
Electricity T&D
Carbon Sequestration
Non-CO2 Reductions
Other GHG Reductions

Related topics in this section

Advanced Coal Power
Turbine Efficiency
Cogeneration & CHP
Natural Gas
Upgrading Controls
Plant Equip. Upgrades
Coal Prep & Handling


 Reducing GHG Intensity at Fossil-Fueled Plants


Fossil fuels have been a major contributor to the high standard of living enjoyed by the industrialized world.  In the U.S., use of fossil fuel is increasingly as a fuel for generating electricity. Indeed, the U.S. electricity system is a world-class asset, supplying relatively low-cost and reliable power for homes and businesses. The U.S. grid is powered mostly by low-cost and abundant fossil fuel resources, particularly coal. The fuel supply systems, generating assets, and transmission and distribution grids collectively represent a huge capital investment in infrastructure.

The availability of low-cost electricity has accelerated the electrification of our energy system, with an ever-growing share of our energy use comprised of electricity. In 1960, 18.1 percent of total energy consumption was in the form of energy input to electric utilities. By 2000, while total energy consumption more than doubled, electricity demand went up fivefold, now accounting for nearly 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption.

For decades, coal has been the dominant source of electricity in the United States. As it is abundant, geographically widespread, and inexpensive to mine, coal has powered more than half of all electricity use since 1950.

Fossil energy is too large a part of the global economy and too inherently cost-effective to realistically be eliminated from the world’s energy mix. Our efforts to tackle CO2 emissions cannot be blind to this reality. The continued use of fossil fuels to generate affordable electricity is critically important to the United States and other world economies. The power generation industry needs to maintain a diversified fuel mix to ensure adequate energy supplies at a reasonable price.

To calculate a nation’s CO2 emissions, we can use the following simple formula: 

CO2 emissions    = GDP ($ of economic activity)
  *   Btu/$GDP (energy efficiency)
  *   carbon/Btu (carbon intensity)
  –   CO2 removal (carbon capture & storage)

Using this formula, we can identify three primary means to reduce CO2 emissions without reducing economic output. One can (1) increase the efficiency of energy conversion and end-use processes, (2) shift to lower carbon fuels (including non-carbon sources such as renewable energy and nuclear power), and/or (3) capture and store the carbon released in energy production.  While there are literally hundreds of activities that can be undertaken to reduce CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, most activities fall into one of these categories. These are the three major pathways we can follow in controlling the emissions of CO2 associated with energy production. All of these options are discussed in this and other sections of the Power Partners Resource Guide.

This section of the Power Partners Resource Guide presents many options for GHG reductions at fossil-fired plants. Some of the topics relate to improving the efficiency (heat rate) at existing fossil-fired units. Other topics focus more on new or rebuilt generating capacity, reducing CO2 emissions either by improved generating efficiency and/or by increased use of lower-carbon fossil fuels.

Improvements in fossil-fired power generation technology, how power plants are operated and maintained, and where on the grid they are located, can measurably reduce both GHG emissions and operating costs.  Improvements in efficiency of new and existing generation plants can take many forms. Some are listed below; and the following pages discuss these and other related options in greater depth:


  Advanced coal-fueled systems. The development and deployment of affordable, efficient new coal technologies that produce less CO2 is key to meeting targets for reducing CO2 without risking global economic instability. Several types of advanced coal-fueled technologies are in various stages of development, including supercritical and ultra-supercritical PC units, fluidized-bed combustion technologies, and integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology. Compared to conventional pulverized coal-fired systems, these advanced technologies offer potentially greater efficiency and lower emissions. Additionally, some are inherently better suited to the capture and sequestration of CO2, should those emissions also need control.
  Turbine efficiency improvements. Advances in turbine technologies are improving overall heat rates and unit efficiency, reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions per kWh generated.
  Repowering. Repowering is the replacement of the steam-producing equipment. Typically, repowering results in far fewer Btu needed to generate each kWh of electricity, thereby reducing the associated CO2 emissions. Additionally, where repowering also includes a fuel switch to natural gas, the lower carbon content of the fuel leads to further CO2 reductions.
  Cogeneration and Combined Heat and Power (CHP). By capturing and using waste heat, other fuels for producing steam and/or hot water can be avoided, thereby saving fuel and the associated CO2 emissions.
  Natural Gas. Natural gas has the lowest carbon content of any fossil fuel. For example, bituminous coal has a carbon content of about 205 lbs. CO2/MMBtu. In contrast, the carbon content of natural gas is only about 117 lbs. CO2/MMBtu. By increasing the use of natural gas for the production of electricity in lieu of other fossil fuels, the CO2 emissions per MMBtu are reduced.
  Upgrading controls. Upgrading plant instrumentation and control systems and plant equipment, e.g., using variable speed motors for fans and pumps are actions that can improve efficiency and reduce GHG emissions.
  Improvements in coal preparation and handling. Improving the quality of the coal can reduce materials handling and lower heat rates.

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 Power Partners Projects

Note: Most Power Partners projects within this section will likely be listed under one of the specific topics. Projects described below are those that relate to the section contents more broadly.

CoalFleet for Tomorrow. CoalFleet for Tomorrow is an industry-led, broad-based collaborative formed to accelerate the commercial deployment of advanced coal power systems, including Ultra-Supercritical Pulverized Coal (USC PC) and Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC). For each technology, CoalFleet has assembled world-class expert working groups with an extensive amount of design experience. The expert groups supplement the expertise of Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) staff members with plant managers and retired engineers from supplier companies—in short, the best talent from the United States and Europe.

Clean Coal Power Initiative (CCPI). "Clean coal technology" describes a new generation of energy processes that sharply reduce air emissions and other pollutants from coal-burning power plants. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the U.S. Department of Energy conducted a joint program with industry and State agencies to demonstrate the best of these new technologies at scales large enough for companies to make commercial decisions. More than 20 of the technologies tested in the original program achieved commercial success. With coal likely to remain one of the nation's lowest-cost electric power sources for the foreseeable future, President Bush has pledged a new commitment to even more advanced clean coal technologies. The Clean Coal Power Initiative is providing government co-financing for new coal technologies that can help utilities meet the President's Clear Skies Initiative to cut sulfur, nitrogen and mercury pollutants from power plants by nearly 70 percent by the year 2018. Also, some of the early projects are showing ways to reduce greenhouse emissions by boosting the efficiency at which coal plants convert coal to electricity or other energy forms.

FutureGen Clean Coal Projects. FutureGen is an initiative to build a first-of-its-kind coal-fueled, near-zero emissions power plant. The plant, to be located in Mattoon, Illinois, will establish the technical and economic feasibility of producing electricity from coal (the lowest cost and most abundant domestic energy resource), while capturing and sequestering the carbon dioxide generated in the process. The initiative will be a government/industry partnership to pursue an innovative "showcase" project focused on the design, construction and operation of a technically cutting-edge power plant that is intended to eliminate environmental concerns associated with coal utilization.

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 References, Sources, and Other Useful Data

Below are some links and resources that pertain to fossil energy efficiency improvements and GHG reductions in general. Additional resources are provided for the specific topic areas indicated by the link bar on the left of this page.

Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development & Climate, "Welcome to the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate,"

The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate brings together seven major Asia-Pacific countries – Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, Korea, and the United States – that collectively account for more than half of the world’s economy, population, and energy use. The Partners are cooperating in an effort to address increased energy needs and the associated issues of air pollution, energy security, and climate change. An innovative public-private sector effort, the Asia-Pacific Partnership was established to achieve these objectives in ways that promote economic development, reduce poverty, and accelerate the development and deployment of cleaner, more efficient technologies. The Partnership has established eight public-private sector Task Forces, three of which –Cleaner Fossil Energy Task Force, Power Generation and Transmission Task Force, and Renewable Energy & Distributed Generation Task Force – relate specifically to the electric power sector. At this website, each of the Task Forces presents information on events, activities, and resources.

Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development & Climate, "Google Groups: APP Power Gen,"

As an activity of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, various Google Groups have been established to provide a ready means to communicate and share information on specific topics in power generation. This Google Group is "APP Power Gen," and serves as an umbrella group for more specifically-focused Google Groups on Soot Blowing, Maintenance Prioritization, and Combustion Optimization.

Electric Power Research Institute, “CoalFleet for Tomorrow”

CoalFleet for Tomorrow ("CoalFleet") is an industry-led, broad-based collaborative research program founded with the goal of making a portfolio of advanced coal technologies more accessible and affordable for power producers and society. Managed by EPRI, CoalFleet brings together power generators from five continents, turbine and boiler suppliers, EPC (engineer-procure-construct) companies from around the world, research partners such as the U.S. Department of Energy, and others. Technologies covered by CoalFleet include integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC), ultra-supercritical pulverized coal (USC PC), and supercritical circulating fluidized-bed combustion (SC CFBC). CoalFleet is especially focused on incorporating user requirements and lessons learned from existing IGCC and advanced PC and CFBC plants (as well as new developments) into new designs being developed for potential commercial orders, helping spur reductions in capital cost and risk for subsequent orders as well as improvements in plant availability and performance.

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Industrial Technologies Program, “BestPractices”

BestPractices, a program of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Industrial Technologies Program (ITP), works with industry to identify plant-wide opportunities for energy savings and process efficiency. Through the implementation of new technologies and systems improvements, companies across the United States are achieving immediate savings results.

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Industrial Technologies Program, “Industrial Assessment Centers”

The Industrial Assessment Centers program enables eligible small and medium-sized manufacturers to have comprehensive industrial assessments performed at no cost to the manufacturer. This web site is intended to provide an overview of the sources of services, self-help tools and expertise currently available to manufacturers throughout the U.S.

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Industrial Technologies Program, “OIT Times: States' Options for NICE3 Participation Broadened” (January 2, 2002 News Release)

OIT’s National Industrial Competitiveness through Energy, Environment, and Economics (NICE3) program provides funding to state-industry partnerships for projects that demonstrate advances in energy efficiency and clean production. State-industry partnerships can get one-time Federal grants of up to $525,000 with the industrial partner receiving up to $500,000.

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, “Clean Coal Technology & The President's Clean Coal Power Initiative”

The Clean Coal Power Initiative, is providing government co-financing for new coal technologies that can help utilities meet the President's Clear Skies Initiative to cut sulfur, nitrogen and mercury pollutants from power plants by nearly 70 percent by the year 2018. Also, some of the early projects are showing ways to reduce greenhouse emissions by boosting the efficiency at which coal plants convert coal to electricity or other energy forms.

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, “FutureGen Clean Coal Projects”

FutureGen Clean Coal Projects is an initiative to equip multiple new clean coal power plants with advanced carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.  On February 27, 2003, the federal government announced FutureGen, a $1 billion initiative to create a coal-based power plant focused on demonstrating a revolutionary clean coal technology that would produce hydrogen and electricity and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. FutureGen's restructured approach proposes federal funding to demonstrate cutting-edge CCS technology at multiple commercial-scale integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) coal power plants. It includes engagement with the international community which will remain integral to advancing CCS technology on a global scale.

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Website prepared for the Edison Electric Institute
and the Electric Power Industry Climate Initiative

Prepared by Twenty-First Strategies, LLC.
Copyright © 2009.  All rights reserved.
Last revised: Dec. 11, 2009.