Dirty Coal Power Plants Could Be a Lot Cleaner.

Most new coal-fired plants on the drawing boards will not use integrated gasification combined-cycle technology because it is 20 percent more expensive to build.

Published: 29-May-2005

 ALMOST a decade ago, Tampa Electric opened an innovative power plant that turned coal, the most abundant but the dirtiest fossil fuel, into a relatively clean gas, which it burns to generate electricity. Not only did the plant emit significantly less pollution than a conventional coal-fired power plant, but it was also 10 percent more efficient.

Hazel R. O'Leary, the secretary of energy at the time, went to the plant, situated between Tampa and Orlando, and praised it for ushering in a "new era for clean energy from coal." Federal officials still refer to the plant's "integrated gasification combined cycle" process as a "core technology" for the future, especially because of its ability - eventually - to all but eliminate the greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

Since that plant opened, however, not a single similar plant has been built in the United States. Abundant supplies of natural gas - a bit cleaner and, until recently, a lot cheaper - stood in the way.


Sandia National Laboratories researchers are studying the burning characteristics of coal to prepare the way for the coming of a hydrogen economy. That's because while there are many long-term options for providing hydrogen as a fuel of the future, coal is the leading contender to provide a hydrogen source in the near term.


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