Over the past decade, clean coal technology has come a long way. When we say “clean coal technology,” we’re referring to the slate of more than 15 advanced tools aimed at reducing emissions, including scrubbers, integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) and carbon capture and storage (CCS). Together, these technologies have reduced overall emissions by more than 90%.
America is leading the way in developing these innovative technologies at institutions across the country, including the Ohio State Clean Coal Research Laboratory and the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research.
Southern Company’s Kemper County Energy Facility in Mississippi has been one of the most talked about clean energy projects not only here in the United States, but across the globe. Creative and forward-thinking engineering has allowed the plant to change the way we view coal-fired power. Southern Company is nearly finished constructing the 582-megawatt transport integrated gasification (TRIG) plant that will deploy technology to capture 65 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions from the plant. The groundbreaking technology will burn lignite coal that is mined on-site, and subsequently capture the carbon byproduct and store it underground. While the plant is an incredible example of American innovation, it has also taught us a few things about the challenges involved in building an advanced carbon capture facility.
For one, it has shown us that CCS is not commercially viable yet. The Kemper Plant has experienced significant cost overruns and delays in construction.
Second, it has shown us that only a specific set of circumstances allowed Kemper to be built. The plant is located in an area that is perfectly suited for the coal mine and power plant’s construction, and thus is not replicable just anywhere.
And third, the Kemper plant has demonstrated how far we have come in the development of clean coal technology, but also how far we have left to go. Southern Company’s own environmental director, Danny Herrin, told the EPA this week that “experiences gained from the Kemper County energy facility, as well as from many more fully integrated applications [of CCS] on full-scale power plants, are needed before the technology can be considered adequately demonstrated.”
By setting ourselves on the right path, we can support the continued development of CCS, along with dozens of other technologies designed to reduce emissions from power plants. To do so, we must pursue energy policy to ensure that the Kemper facility is the first, but not the last, power plant of its kind in the U.S.