If coal mining and power production in the U.S. is to receive a reprieve under the leadership of newly installed President Donald Trump, as he suggested in last fall’s election campaign, it may need some cleaning up along the way.
Global coal consumption stalled in 2014 for the first time in almost two decades before decreasing 2.6 per cent in 2015, driven by a fall of 15 per cent in the U.S. and three per cent in China. Trump vowed to roll back environmental regulations he blames for shuttering coal plants (aided by cheap natural gas) across the U.S. in recent years.
Now the U.S. Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy has announced $5.9 million in funding for seven research projects to focus on novel ways to use carbon dioxide (CO2) captured from coal-fired power plants. The technologies, if successful, could make more CO2 available for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), and could be applied in future to other large emitters of CO2, such as oilsands operations.
In addition to government funding, each project will include non-federal cost share of at least 20 per cent.
Projects include the following:
• CO2 to Bioplastics: The University of Kentucky Research Foundation will develop a process to convert CO2 from coal-fired flue gas using microalgae-based CO2 capture, with subsequent conversion of the resulting algal biomass to bioplastics, chemicals and fuels.• Upcycled “CO2 negative” concrete: The University of California will develop and evaluate a process that uses coal combustion and iron/steel processing wastes as raw materials for carbon mineralization to produce a construction material with mechanical properties that are at least comparable to traditional Portland cement-based concrete.• Electrochemical conversion to alcohols: The University of Delaware will develop and test a two-stage electrolyzer process for the conversion of flue gas-derived CO2 to C2/C3 alcohols, such as ethanol and propanol.• High energy systems for transforming CO2 to valuable products: The Gas Technology Institute will develop a Direct E-Beam Synthesis process to produce valuable chemicals, such as acetic acid, methanol and CO from CO2 captured from a coal-fired power plant. The process uses high-energy electron beams to break chemical bonds, allowing the production of desired chemicals at mild conditions.• Nano-engineered catalyst supported on ceramic hollow fibres: The Gas Technology Institute will develop a novel catalytic reactor process to convert CO2 into methane, which will be dry reformed to produce syngas. The catalytic reactor consists of nano-engineered catalysts, developed specifically for dry reforming, deposited on high packing density hollow fibres.• New process for CO2 conversion to fuel: TDA Research, Inc. will develop a sorbent-based, thermo-catalytic process to convert CO2 captured from flue gas into syngas. The team will focus on the development and optimization of a mixed metal-oxide sorbent to directly reduce CO2 to CO.• Utilizing nano-engineered catalyst for olefin production: Southern Research will develop a process to produce light olefins, such as ethylene and propylene, from coal-fired flue gas using novel nano-engineered catalysts.