Clean Coal Developments, or Lack Thereof

by Richard T. Stuebi

This past week, the nation’s largest utility American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP) announced that it was installing carbon capture and sequestration technology from Alstom (Paris: ALO) at two of its large coal fired powerplants, Mountaineer in West Virginia and Northeastern in Oklahoma.

In AEP’s press release, AEP CEO Mike Morris was quoted as saying “With Congress expected to take action on greenhouse gas issues in climate legislation, it’s time to advance this technology for commercial use.”

As Alstom’s press release indicates, the demonstration projects will employ chilled ammonia to capture CO2 from the flue stream for injection into underground saline aquifers (at Mountaineer) and for enhanced oil recovery (at Northeastern).

Just a day previously, however, my illustrious alma mater The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released a new report entitled The Future of Coal, which calls U.S. efforts so far to develop and commercialize clean-coal technologies “completely inadequate”.

I couldn’t agree more. Like it or not, coal is going to be a huge part of our energy future. We need to figure out how to use it in an environmentally-sustainable manner, and right now we’re mainly paying lip-service to our intentions for clean-coal research. Time to up the ante.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

3 replies
  1. John Carr
    John Carr says:

    Evidently, the technical people in the power and petro-chemicals industry are finally resigning themselves to a conclusion that was drawn nearly a century ago. Contrary to popular belief, coal companies are not enamoured with coal gasification to "clean-up" coal. If you look closely you will see the name "Shell Oil," and "Texaco" on the name of some of the more "successful" gasifiers. Most of these successful gasifiers suffer from obvious problems that were known to gasifier designers, and corrected 75 years ago. Coal companies were running gasifiers in the 1930's that ran better than these current abominations. Nearly all of these gasifiers were designed by good and reputable power plant engineering firms, not coal chemicals engineering firms. That's not a coincidence. Since coal liquifaction can displace petroleum assets, it is in the petroleum industry's best interest to stop or delay this technology. It has a very long history of doing so, starting with Standard Oil in the 1920's. If you enjoy history, do some research, it's illuminating. Billions of dollars have been spent on "Clean Coal Technology" only to fail over and over again. The curious person would look carefully to see how many of these projects were cosponsored by an oil company. Isn't ironic that these projects would fail with a near perfect record of failure, in a very public way. The odds of any industry having a failure rate this high defies probability. This string of failures has pushed the public perception, over the last 75 years, of coal as being too expensive and risky to be cost effective. One small problem. It's not true.What the writer completely missed, (as most do), is North American Coal's, Coal Liquifaction Plant in Beaulah North Dakota. It continuously failed to make money under the DOE and petroleum companies direction. The competent individuals at North American Coal fixed the numerous engineering problems. It is a near zero emissions plant making a variety of chemicals at a very profitable rate. Successful clean coal technology has been around for a very long time. We don't need to reinvent it. We need to revive it with competent people, like the ones at North American Coal, Koppers, or even Sun Coke.Sincerely,John CarrEnergy Analyst

  2. Doug
    Doug says:

    Serious Black: The Quest for Clean CoalThe search for ways to reduce carbon emissions has led to government grant money for schemes ranging from promising to wacky. Recognizing that there is no currently viable replacement for fossil fuels, with the possible exception of nuclear power, the US and other countries with large coal deposits are desperately looking for ways to continue burning coal without incurring the wrath of nature or the IPCC. Clear evidence of the seriousness of this effort is evident in this week's special edition of Science, dedicated to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology.See the article at

  3. tmj99
    tmj99 says:

    Families for a Clean Tennessee are very concerned about this latest development: DOE wants to ship low-level radioactive waste to an Anderson County landfill from a closed plutonium extraction plant in New York. See the news article at:… Equivalent to 200 dump truck loads of waste! We must act now. To support this effort call Senator Tim Burchette at 615-741-1766 now! Tell him you are opposed to accepting New York’s nuclear waste in our backyard! Visit our website for more ways you can help combat this activity at

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