Energy production has been a topic of much controversy not just in the US but also the world. With growing concerns for climate change, there are many divided views on the direction of perhaps one of the most important topics of the 21st century and that is the future of energy. The reasons for such a divide arise from differing interests, where on one side of the spectrum, we have the people who are acknowledging the scientists researching the effects of carbon emitting sources in our atmosphere and the data they have presented thus assessing their views based on the global good, and the other side of the spectrum where the interests lay in the present and factors such as the economy and jobs are the main concerns. Regardless of which side of that spectrum a person’s ideas are, there are a couple of things for certain. There will always be a need for electricity, which is expected to grow, and that electricity will have to come from somewhere.
Since the beginning of power generation, Coal has been the most important source for providing electricity which has allowed cities, and even nations to develop. As society progressed, we began to realize the detrimental effects of such as source and turned to many other sources that were available to us such as natural gas, nuclear, and renewables as you can see in the figure above. Each has its own upsides and downsides. However, we have slowly been going in the other direction of coal. We can see this locally with some coal plants shutting down and converting to natural gas, such as Yates and Mcdonough. Despite this, about two years ago, I heard about a project Mississippi Power was undertaking involving coal, specifically lignite, and it caught my interest. This project is known as the Kemper County Energy Facility.
The Kemper County Energy Facilility began construction in 2010 in Kemper County, Mississippi with support from the government as part of Obama’s climate plan. It is an IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) 582 MW power plant and is considered the first of its kind at this scale. What this means is that they will be able to take a locally mined, cheap, low quality coal called lignite, and use a process called gasification to convert it to gas and remove the impurities such as sulfur, the result is syngas. This syngas will then be used for the 2 combined cycle units that is on plant site. The layout can be seen in the below 2 images. This process will capture up to 65 % of the CO2. This process will also substantially decrease sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and mercury emissions. Also they are capturing the chemicals and producing them as a by product such as sulfuric acid and ammonia. The captured CO2, and nitrogen has many industrial applications as well. The construction of this plant gave a strong economic boost to the region from the construction, mining, and on-site jobs. The facility is also a zero liquid discharge facility, which means that none of the water that is used on plant site will end up in surrounding lakes or rivers.
This project has had many setbacks as anticipated and has almost doubled the original budget. It was originally set to be completed in 2014 for 2.4 billion. This project has now cost an estimated 7.5 billion dollars and that’s with some backing by the Department of Energy. In July of this year, the Mississippi Public Service Commission stopped financing the project and ordered the coal gasification part of the plant to be stopped and the natural gas combined cycle to continue running. The key factors that affected this decision were reliability, availability, and cost. This decision has put the “clean coal” aspect of this project to rest for the time being. However, Mississippi Power is still assessing their options. At the present, the plant is running both combined cycle units using natural gas that is being piped in.
Looking over the progress and the recent revelations of this project, one can say that it was a failure, and others can say that great strides were made to integrate coal with a clean climate and it still is not over and could be considered as an important component of our nation’s energy strategy. However, my personal take on the matter is that despite the pros and the appeal for “clean coal”, I still believe mankind will have to look for other clean alternative sources for the future such as renewables and nuclear. Yes, clean coal is cleaner than some options today, but not to the degree that we will need for years to come.
Overall, I still think the Kemper facility is somewhat of an attempt to find some common ground in the energy debate and I find it very interesting for many reasons and I hope to see it someday. What are your views on the Kemper Project and the energy crisis that our generation will play a pivotal role in? Also where do you see the future of clean coal going?
Sources. ( Also if you want to look more into Kemper, check it out. I didn’t want to get to much in detail due to length.)