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IEA/CIAB (International Energy Agency/Coal Industry Advisory Board) Information Gathering Session: Minimising emissions from coal power plants. Paris, France

The IEA/CIAB held a morning session in Paris on 11 June 11 2014 to gather information on the different international approaches to controlling emissions of the major pollutants – PM (particulate matter), SOx and NOx from coal fired utilities. The session was opened with a short introduction by Keisuke Sadamori of the IEA. I then gave an overview of international legislation (UNECE and UNEP conventions and protocols) and explained how these work in practice. I then focussed on a comparison of the old LCPD and IPPC Directives and how these have been updated into the new IED, posing a significant challenge to the coal sector in Europe. The information in this presentation was taken from several recent reports from the CCC (see recent reports by L L Sloss).

Itaru Nakamura of J-Power, Japan, gave a concise overview of the current legislation in Japan. There are a total of 72 coal-fired units amounting to 38 GW in capacity. This provides 32% of Japan’s energy needs, with the majority of the remainder coming from gas (48%). Almost 90% of these plants are fitted with DeNOx controls and all have FGD and particulate controls. The emission limit for NOx is 200 ppm, which is at the lower end of the scale seen under the IED in the EU. The sulphur limit is calculated based on the K value – a combination of stack height and population density.

Over and above these national limits, local governments in Japan set by-laws which apply to the plants within their jurisdiction. The tightest limits are for the Isogo plant, which is located in a densely populated area. The limits for the two Isogo units are 5 and 10 ppm for PM, 10-20 for SOx and 13-20 for NOx, respectively, and the emissions are monitored continuously online. Coal quality going into the plant is also controlled by the local government. Nakamura-san showed a comparison of SOx and NOx emissions from coal-fired plants internationally and, unsurprisingly, Japan has the cleanest plants and Isogo sets a whole new standard for power plant performance.

In 2013 Japan set standards for new build plants which require a minimum efficiency. All plants must be Ultra supercritical. Plants of 600 MW must have a minimum efficiency of 44% (LHV) and 900-1100 MW plants must have 45%. Coal is still more cost effective than gas in Japan due to relative fuel costs.

Ron Engleman of Leonardo Technologies gave an over view of the development of legislation in the USA, highlighting that some of the current and impending legislation, such as the CSAPR rule on SOx and NOx, is still undergoing litigation. Much like in the EU, the legislation in the US has evolved and tightened over time and there appears to be some remaining disagreement between requirements for best “demonstrated” technology (including cost, energy security and other considerations) under the new source performance standards and “reasonably available” control technology (such as the major bolt-ons, FGD and SCR) required under the regional haze laws. States have to comply with a number of different rules and standards, so agreement still needs to be reached as to what is actually required at some plants and whether the required changes will be cost effective. Recent estimates from the US EPA put the price of SO2 reduction from coal plants at $700-1,100/t and for NOx the cost is $600-1,500/t. The standards for new plants are particularly challenging and so, with this factor and the relative availability of low cost gas, there are no new coal plants planned for the USA up to 2040. Also, 20% (60 GW) of the current fleet will have retired by 2018 and a further 20 GW could retire as a result of impending legislation.

Dr Andrew Minchener of the CCC then gave a comprehensive overview of the legislative situation in China (available in several recent CCC reports) including an update on the latest 5 year plan. The emission standards for coal plants in China are now more challenging than those seen in the EU and the USA. The aim is to reduce SOx by 8% and NOx by 10% from 2010 values. The installation rate for FGD in China is unparalleled.  However, with the energy capacity growing from 963 GW in 2010 to 2900 GW in 2050, maintaining a reduction in emissions with an increase in combustion will be a challenge. The use of coal is expected to increase from 687 GW in 2010 to 1400 GW in 2050 but this actually represents a drop in the relative contribution from coal to the total power generation in China from 71% in 2010 to 48% in 2050. As a result of the tight emission limits, China is investing significantly in importing control technologies. However, as the expertise is gained, it is quite possible for China to change to being a net exporter of such equipment in the foreseeable future.

Gina Downes of Eskom outlined the challenges in South Africa. The new national emission standards, which start to apply in 2015 and 2020, are challenging, especially for a country with limited water availability. Some plants are already requesting a 5 year extension period for compliance. In order to reach a balance between potentially not achieving the required limits and ensuring the maintenance of air quality, Eskom is working on potential offset projects, such as cleaner domestic combustion systems. If such action were successful, indoor air quality could be improved significantly for some of the most affected population.

There was then a period of open discussion between the delegates, focussing on the challenges facing coal plants under continuing tightening legislation. It is clear that, although compliance has been achieved in the past, legislation is tightening to the point where compliance is an economic and technical challenge. Where countries, such as the US, can move to alternative fuels such as gas, other countries, such as some countries in the EU, China and South Africa, will have to work harder to ensure that energy production from coal is maintained to provide power for growing populations whilst emission standards are met. It is possible that more and more derogations and extensions will be applied in order to “keep the lights on”.

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