UN Economic Commission for Europe

Expert cooperation on sustainable fossil energy issues

The IEA Clean Coal Centre has a long-standing cooperation arrangement with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), on activities that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired electricity generation, recognising that this objective has impacts on several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The IEACCC representative is Dr Andrew Minchener OBE, who is a member of the UNECE Group of Experts on Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels, which is a subsidiary body of the Committee on Sustainable Energy (CSE). In addition, Dr Lesley Sloss is a member of the UNECE Group of Experts on Coal Mine Methane (CMM), which undertakes and promotes activities aiming at reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from coal mines.

The activities of the Group of Experts on Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels are developed and implemented with the active participation of UNECE member States, representatives from the energy and financial sectors and civil society, independent experts and the academia. There is growing cooperation with other UNECE expert groups, following agreements reached in 2018.

To put the overall work programme in context, although renewable sources and nuclear energy play very important roles in supplying primary fuel for electricity production, fossil fuels, especially coal and natural gas, are the dominant fuels for generating electric power globally and in the UNECE region. Over 60% of the electricity generated in the UNECE region comes from fossil fuels and this trend is expected to continue given that the region holds 40% of the world’s natural gas reserves and 60% of global coal reserves. Combustion of fossil fuels, however, presents a range of environmental challenges, including CO2 emissions, release of traditional pollutants such as SO2, NOx and particulate matter, and waste disposal. Production of electricity from fossil fuels must also deliver on environmental performance to ensure its long-term sustainability and acceptance.

The areas of work include:

  • Regulatory and policy dialogue
  • Sharing best practices in the field of cleaner electricity production from fossil fuels in the ECE region
  • Advanced fossil fuels technologies for power generation, especially coal high efficiency, low emissions (HELE) power
  • Evaluation of efficiency enhancing measures for coal-fired power plants including steam generators, air and flue gas systems, steam turbines, generators
  • Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS)
  • Enhanced oil recovery with CO2
  • Extraction and use of coal mine methane in the context of cleaner electricity and heat production.

Within this broad work scope, the IEA Clean Coal Centre currently provides input from a coal perspective into:

1. Assessing the future role for thermal power plants in sustainable electricity systems from a system-wide perspective
2. Decreasing emissions and increasing efficiency from new and existing coal-fired power generation using best practices across the ECE region in the short and medium term,
3. Examining the prospects to make step change improvements in efficiency and emissions reduction.
4. Assessing means for development and deployment of CCUS technology and know-how since this is a critical technology if the Paris Agreement is to be realised
5. Assessing opportunities for sustainable use of fossil fuels, primarily coal, beyond electricity generation.
1. Assessing the future role for thermal power plants in sustainable electricity systems from a system-wide perspective

by decreasing the carbon intensity of electricity production and increasing the flexibility of fossil generation to support deployment of variable renewable power generation, in order to allow for deeper renewable energy penetration.

2. Decreasing emissions and increasing efficiency from new and existing coal-fired power generation using best practices across the ECE region in the short and medium term,

since in a typical pulverised coal-fired plant, for each 1 per cent increase in efficiency there is a 2–3 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions and other air pollutants. In particular, for existing plants in developing countries and regions in transition, countries have programmes of modernisation or of construction for new power plants. Various knowledge dissemination initiatives have been identified and begun to be implemented to provide best practice guidance, including collaborative opportunities with a number of partners, including the World Coal Association and the UNECE to support this effort in the ECE region.

3. Examining the prospects to make step change improvements in efficiency and emissions reduction.

Thus for the construction of new coal-fired power plants, there are several HELE coal power generation technologies that could increase efficiencies significantly and decrease power generation emissions in the region. The key driver at present is the introduction of HELE coal power technologies that enhance efficiency, environmental performance and reliability. Activities under this topic include developing best practice guidance in the deployment of HELE technologies across the ECE region. It will provide Member States with the opportunity to adjust policy and regulation in a way that could identify solutions to ongoing coal utilisation and a pathway towards CCUS retrofits. For the medium term, coal gasification is a promising technology that offers a versatile and clean way to convert coal into electricity, hydrogen, and other valuable energy products. There are also ongoing development activities to establish advanced HELE plant, which offer the prospect of pushing the state-of-the-art efficiency from some 47% (net, LHV basis) to above 53%, within the next ten years.

4. Assessing means for development and deployment of CCUS technology and know-how since this is a critical technology if the Paris Agreement is to be realised

Know-how for CCUS development and deployment is an important way to support progress in ECE member States. This activity will look at the contribution of CCUS to climate change mitigation potential, as well as at the obstacles to its deployment, in particular related to the public perception and financing of such of such projects.

5. Assessing opportunities for sustainable use of fossil fuels, primarily coal, beyond electricity generation.

This will include combined heat and power (CHP), based on coal gasification with CCUS to produce high margin products such as liquid fuels, gases and chemicals.

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There are also several cross-cutting activities, including:

Exploring the options whereby fossil fuels can successfully support renewable energy deployment within the power grid. The intention is that the Group of Experts on Renewable Energy and the Group of Experts on Gas will collaborate with the Group of Experts on Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels to review the role of fossil fuels in supporting the deployment of renewable energy. This requires both coal and gas to provide a reliable and source of energy and capacity is needed for when renewable energy sources are not available, together with either fuel providing a rapid-response capacity to maintain balance in power networks to accommodate fluctuations in the output of intermittent energy sources.

Considering the role of coal and natural gas in electricity generation in the ECE region and the competing options for future electricity generation, including an increased use of LNG in electricity generation. This work is intended to be undertaken by the Group of Experts on Gas in collaboration with the Group of Experts on Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels.

Exploring methane use in the context of cleaner electricity and heat production, including ensuring innovation in the extraction and use of coal mine methane. It is intended that this work will be undertaken by the Group of Experts on Coal Mine Methane, which focuses on the abatement, capture and utilization of CMM emissions. It will work in collaboration with the Group of Experts on Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels.

The latter Group of Experts will also engage, within the scope of its expertise, in joint work on the transition of the energy sector.

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