Renewable coal?


Guest post by Steven Q Andrews.

Coal may not be widely thought of as a renewable resource, but without carbon dioxide emissions, through gasification and carbon capture and storage, decarbonized coal combustion is now being considered as part of renewable standard portfolios.  On May 13th, the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a discussion titled: “Decarbonizing King Coal: Growing US-China Clean Technology Cooperation.” The Decarbonizing King Coal event included Ming Sun from the Clean Air Task Force, Albert Lin from Future Fuels, and Julian Wong from the Center for American Progress.  The discussion focused broadly on the relationship and cooperation between the two largest coal consumers  and producers of green house gases in the world.
Projects discussed included Good Springs IGCC (Integrated Gas Combined Cycle),  a 270 megawatt (MW) coal fired power plant with planned carbon capture and storage, a facility in Pennsylvania that should qualify under the state’s Tier II Renewable Portfolio Standard.  The development of Good Springs IGCC has been aided by cooperation with the GreenGen IGCC facility in Tianjin, China – a 250 MW coal power plant which is also planning to incorporate carbon sequestration.  If coal combustion can be decarbonized in both China and the US, maybe coal should be considered a renewable resource?  This is not an altogether ridiculous idea, especially when California, for example, allows efficiency upgrades to large hydroelectric dams to count under its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).  Pennsylvania’s expansive RPS has been criticized for including coal and large hydro.

In both China and the United States there is high pressure and incentive to make coal cleaner.  Over 50% of the coal fired power plants in the United States are over 40 years old.  Let us all hope that the new coal power plants being built in China and the US take advantage of technological advances that both countries are developing.  Even if coal isn’t really a renewable resource, ensuring that it is as clean as possible is critical to both countries best interests.  Putting a price on carbon would greatly facilitate these business opportunities and environmental efforts.