Future of coal

Coal power will continue to be a cornerstone of the European energy system for the foreseeable future. But additional measures are needed to minimise CO2 emissions to the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide released by coal combustion constitutes a large share of total global emissions. For each produced kilowatt hour of electricity, corresponding roughly to the amount of electricity consumed by watching TV for one evening, modern coal-fired plants emit just under one kilogramme of CO2.

The EU's climate goals call for a reduction in CO2 emissions to 27 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. No single solution can meet this challenge, particularly as many countries depend on coal power plants.

New technology will reduce emission further

Coal-fired power plant emissions have been significantly reduced through flue gas cleaning and by efficiency measures such as coal drying. Two important additional measures to reduce emissions of CO2 are Carbon Capture and Storage technologies and co-firing biomass in coal plants.

Carbon capture and storage

There are several projects underway to develop technologies for storing the CO2 released when burning fossil fuel. These methods are known as CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage).

Many experts consider CCS the only sustainable technological option to reduce CO2 emissions in countries that remain dependant on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. According to the IEA's calculations, CO2 emissions from the energy industry can be reduced by 20 per cent by 2050, provided that CCS technology is implemented.

CO2 stored deep underground

CCS technology is based on separating carbon dioxide from the combustion gases that arise from fossil fuel power generation. Instead of being emitted into the atmosphere, the CO2 is separated from other gases and compressed, pumped down and stored in deep geological formations.

Co-firing of biomass

Co-firing means that power plants use two or more different types of fuel. Co-firing of coal and biomass in existing coal-fired power plants is a cost-effective way to quickly reduce CO2 emissions.

Power plants require relatively few changes to allow for a greater blend of biomass. In most power plants, between 10 and 15 per cent of the coal used can be replaced without significant impact on efficiency or increased corrosion risk.

Calculations show that co-firing at existing coal-fired power plants could increase EU electricity generation from biofuel by 50 to 90 TWh per year, equivalent to 1.5 - 2.5 per cent of the EU's total electricity generation. This could reduce CO2 emissions by around 85 million tonnes per year, representing an estimated five to 10 per cent of the reductions required to meet the EU's 2030 climate goal.

Coal- or gas-fired power plant equipped with CCS

Last updated: 2014-12-04 10:45