Coals Role in International Energy Security and Sustainable Development

In order to preserve the option for utilizing coal in the future and to ensure that coal usage is performed in an environmentally acceptable manner, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) undertook the Global Coal Initiative (GCI) in 2000 [47,48]. This initiative builds on and supplements DOE initiatives and worldwide coal combustion advances that are aimed at maintaining the strategic value of coal as a power-generating fuel worldwide.

The GCI involves a consortium of participants worldwide—coal suppliers, coal users, equipment manufacturers, and industry/government consortia— that are incorporating a long-term focus on development options for resolving carbon-energy conflicts and enabling the sustainable, competitive use of coal at near-zero emissions by 2020. The long-term viability of coal as a worldwide generating fuel depends on finding ways to further reduce or even eliminate the environmental impact of coal, including CO2 emissions. The GCI is engaged in projects that focus on near-term operational movements and longer term coal-retention solutions [48]. The projects will help sustain a diversity of generating fuel resources as a hedge against price fluctuations, enhance the value of existing coal-fired power plants, and provide options for using coal in new plants [48].

One activity under the GCI is a new valuation framework to weigh private and public investment in advanced coal technologies to show the value to society of developing superior coal technologies to maintain fuel diversity [47]. Results suggest that the coal research and development in the United States will produce approximately $1.4 trillion in net benefits to U.S. consumers by 2050.

The essential six elements of the GCI, endorsed by the various factions of the global coal community, are (1) ultra-supercritical plant designs; (2) low-volatile coal combustion; (3) the value of real options for coal; (4) CO2 control options; (5) advanced coal gasification, fluidized-bed, and other coal options; and (6) lignite and low-rank coal plant improvements [47,48]. Through ultra-supercritical plant designs, the initiative is evaluating and developing materials for advanced steam cycles in order to enhance efficiency and reduce emissions of pollutants and CO2 from next-generation plants. The GCI is providing innovative solutions to operating problems with low-volatile coals, which are prevalent in China, India, South Africa, and Australia, to reduce fuel costs, maintain satisfactory performance during cycling and at low loads, and maintain NOz emissions and unburned carbon levels at desired levels. Real options models are being developed and assessments performed so power producers can more effectively utilize coal as an option in their future asset base. Technological approaches and costs to design, procure equipment, construct, and operate power plants that separate and sequester CO2 will be evaluated. Advanced approaches for utilizing coal will be developed and evaluated, including gasification, advanced fluidized-bed combustion, and hydrogen and chemical co-production, an effort that supports the DOE's various programs discussed in Chapter 7. The GCI is also developing solutions to fuel processing and boiler slagging in power plants that burn high-moisture lignite. There are vast lignite fields in the Dakotas, the Texas-Mississippi basin, Germany and Central Europe, Australia, China, and India; however, challenging issues related to the high moisture content need to be resolved.

The GCI complements the United Nations initiative to address coal and sustainable development [49]. Although coal and sustainable development may be contradictory terms to some, this was not the message that came from the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August/September 2002, where it was agreed that not only is coal compatible with sustainable development, but it is also essential [49]. Sustainable development was defined as "development that meets the needs of the present generation without undermining the capacity of future generations to meet their needs."

At the summit, the World Bank noted that improved energy services can enhance indoor air quality and reduce health hazards (by switching from traditional biomass and fossil fuels for cooking and heating), increase income (by reducing the time in collecting traditional biomass and implementing small-scale manufacturing and service activities), bring environmental benefits (by stopping deforestation and its subsequent soil degradation), and provide educational opportunities (by providing lighting or other services of direct educational relevance) [49]. At the summit, it was estimated that 1.6 billion people in developing countries have no access to electricity, while 2.4 billion rely on primitive biomass for cooking and heating and that, in 30 years, there would still be 1.4 billion people without electricity and 2.6 billion people still relying on traditional biomass. It was these challenges that the summit addressed and a plan of implementation was developed. One aspect of the plan asks governments to diversify energy supply by developing advanced, cleaner, more efficient, affordable, and cost-effective energy technologies, including fossil fuel technologies, and to transfer these technologies to developing countries.

At the summit, it was clear that coal has been, and must continue to be, a major contributor of sustainable development because coal can be found in most nations of the world [49]. On a global scale, coal accounts for ~25% of world primary energy consumption and fuels 35% of the world electricity generation, ~5 billion short tons/year are consumed, the international coal trade consists of ~600 million short tons/year, there are more than 200 years of reserves at current rates of consumption, coal is a "conflict-free" energy source, and there is a diversity of reserves and production. Coal must be used efficiently and cleanly, and it was recognized at the summit that coal technologies continue to improve and effective options are now available for countries of all levels of economic development with respect to emissions reduction. Coal continues to be the foundation for economic and social development of the world's largest economies in both the developed and developing world. Coal is a major component in securing an improved quality of life for billions of people worldwide who gain access to it through the energy services they need for daily life, industrial development, and social advancement. A sustainable energy policy can be achieved by encouraging electrification, establishing sound environmental regulations, safeguarding energy supplies through diversification, and continuing to support advanced coal technologies.

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