Chemistry of clean coal

Chemistry of clean coal

Summary: Reaction Design works on cleaning up coal burning power plants.


Currently coal-burning accounts for over 45% of American electricity. Once the coal is out of the ground, what are the environmental concerns? Mercury, sulphur, nitrogen compounds and CO2 emissions.

This clean coal dream is a big deal politically in the U.S. Half of the states have significant coal reserves. And one-fourth of all coal in the world is believed to be in the U.S. The coal supply known to exist in the U.S. has more energy potential than all the earth’s known petroleum reserves.

The National Energy Research Lab (NREL) within the Department of Energy (DOE) is embarked on a project to find a way to burn coal with minimum CO2 release into the atmosphere. CO2 is one of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Over 3/4 of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. is CO2 from energy use or production.

One greentech company hired to work on the clean coal project is Reaction Design of San Diego. I spoke recently with Bernie Rosenthal, Reaction Design’s CEO. His company had just gotten a DOE grant to work on next generation coal-burning power plants. The most efficient ways of getting electricity from coal is via gasification. Coal gasification schematic. Courtesy Reaction Design.

So Reaction Designs is working on modeling the chemistry needed to gasify coal, then burn it to produce electricity while capturing as much CO2 as possible. Rosenthal explained that it's crucial to understand the chemistry of what happens both during gasification of coal and then during combustion. That’s where his company comes in. Also, Reaction will work on ways to make the footprint, literally, smaller. Current technology would require enormous physical additions to coal burning plants just to gasify coal. There is no commercial scale plant in the U.S. that gasifies coal right now. What happens chemically in both the boiler and the combuster at a coal-burning plant will be examined by Reaction.

Whatever results and chemical models Reaction comes up with will be tested burning real coal under real conditions. Rosenthal says Reaction will also produce designs and chemical reaction models that can be scaled up to the size needed by the U.S. expanding appetite for electricity.

Other projects that Reaction Designs is working on include: modelling surrogate engine fuels for vehicles. This work was done with consortium of engine and fuel manufacturers. Results not made public yet. Some of that work may be applicable to power generation companies, says Rosenthal.

Reaction's worked with airplane engine manufacturers looking at possible future jet fuels. Looking also at non-fossil fuels for military as well. That's through a NASA project. And Reaction has a biofuels project with DOE. They're looking at next generation biofuels for autos.

Before the talkbacks begin: yes, I know there's much skpeticism about "clean coal." There is also much criticism of our current dependence on coal and the environmental results, of which I have frequently blogged. However, there is almost no chance we Americans will stop burning mounds of coal in the foreseeable future so cleaning it up seems like a worthwhile endeavor. And clean coal would be a wonderful tech to sell to China.

Topic: China

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  • Probably a lot more feasible than other stuff.

    "yes, I know there?s much skpeticism about
    'clean coal.'"

    IMHO those people are a bit on the extremist
    side of things. There's nothing wrong with
    cleaning up existing technologies. In fact,
    it's probably a lot cheaper and far more
    feasible than most other alternatives. I think
    most people who hate clean coal are probably
    just doing it on principle and not on any real
    concern for the environment.
    • The sceptical now labelled extremist (how the world has changed)

      We should all be sceptical about a technology that relies on as many
      uncertainties as "clean coal".

      "In fact, it's probably a lot cheaper and far more feasible than most other

      How would we know when the technology doesn't exist?

      Out of interest what label would you give those that aren't sceptical of
      "clean coal"? Gullible? Foolish? Brainwashed? ...
      Richard Flude
  • new world order terminology

    if you don't agree with new religion "human made global warming" you are extremist.

    we are supposed to be intelligent beings...
    • No, no, no....

      Didn't you get the memo???

      They've quietly changed it to "climate change" since growing numbers of rational people started questioning the whole global warming scam.
      Hallowed are the Ori
  • There's no way the Chinese would pay instead of steal the technology

    Their great success in stealing nuclear and military secrets while the Clinton administration deliberately looked the other way ensured that this will be their preferred course of action forever forward. Why do you think they invested hundreds of millions in getting Obama elected...
    Johnny Vegas
  • So what do you do with the "captured" emissions?

    Hallowed are the Ori
  • RE: Chemistry of clean coal

    What is done with the captured emissions depends on the scheme. Already in coal plants, the smoke and soot is allowed to rise through "bag houses", which are, as you expect, big buildings with bags which collect the soot on their surfaces. The bags are periodically shaken, the soot falls to the bottom, and you scoop it up and railcar it away to be buried. But CO2, which is what we're most worried about in "climate change", can be used in other industrial processes. I'd make it a feedstock; with a lot of captured CO2 around, chemical engineers will find ways to replace other, more poisonous feed chemicals with it.

    BTW, I personally prefer a combination of nuclear, wind, solar, and nat gas.