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Improving the Nation’s Coal Fleet through Innovation and Collaboration
Directors corner

Director’s Corner

by Brian Anderson, Ph.D.

NETL has long been a forward-looking laboratory. In the 1970s, our researchers were investigating gas shales, which were known to be abundant resources, but which were not yet economically feasible. However, knowing the potential existed, researchers pursued technologies that enabled the shale gas boom in the early 2000s. Today, we continue this tradition of looking to the future and seeing the potential of our nation’s resources and our team’s demonstrated ability for cutting-edge innovation.

Coal is a critical resource as we transition to a clean energy future. Like gas shales, coal is not a new energy source. It has powered the nation for more than a century. While people around the globe continue to rely on this abundant, affordable resource, we cannot continue using it like we always have. As a planet, we’re faced with the urgent challenge of combatting climate change, and we must also ensure that people have continued access to reliable energy. Renewables offer a sustainable option, but these intermittent energy resources require additional support from fossil fuel sources during the times where there is no wind or sun, for example. At the same time, our current fleet was designed for continuous operation and cannot support the frequent startups and shutdowns required to support widespread addition of renewables into the grid. This challenge requires new technologies, but it also requires improvements to our existing fleet.

To address these challenges, NETL is leading the Coal FIRST (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, Transformative) initiative that is developing the coal plant of the future, required to provide secure, stable and reliable power. When we break that down, this initiative is driving research and development in our labs and with our partners that underpins coal-fired power plants capable of:

  • Flexible operations to meet the needs of the grid.
  • Innovative and cutting-edge components that improve efficiency and reduce emissions. 
  • Providing resilient power to Americans.
  • Having a small footprint compared to today’s conventional utility-scale coal. 
  • Transforming how coal technologies are designed and manufactured. 

Through this initiative, NETL is collaborating with partners in academia and industry on projects that are ushering in a paradigm shift regarding the operation of our nation’s coal fleet. We’re pursuing ways to increase the efficiency and reliability of today’s power plants while innovating technologies to improve their flexibility to better work in tandem with renewables.

Throughout January, we’re featuring our work with Coal FIRST and how we’re improving the existing fleet. Visit our newsroom to learn more about leading-edge innovations to improve the performance of power plant condensers and conceptual design studies that are advancing coal power generation beyond today’s state-of-the-art capabilities and making coal-fired power plants better adapted to the evolving electrical grid.  

Through these projects and others, we’re paving the way for an energy future characterized by efficiency, near-zero emissions, minimized water consumption and other benefits that are enhancing our nation’s energy foundation and protecting the environment for future generations.