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New Tech Could Bring Coal Power Roaring Back To Life

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The Japanese are showcasing new technology that drastically cuts emissions and increases efficiency of coal-fired power plants, which could threaten the viability of importing natural gas.

A new experimental power plant in Osakikamijima burns coal under high temperatures to convert it into a gas, reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 30 percent while also increasing plant efficiency. The project also has a fuel cell facility to extract hydrogen from gasified coal and force it to react with oxygen to generate power.

The new technology “is 30% more efficient in power generation than the most advanced coal-fired power generation plant in Japan and reduces the generation of CO2 by 30%,” Kenji Aiso, president of Osaki CoolGen which operates the plant, told the Nikkei Asian Review Tuesday. Compared with other typical coal-fired power plants in the world, the new technology reduces CO2 emissions per unit of power output by 40 percent.

India, China and other developing countries are expected to increase their coal use, so the new Japanese technology could help reduce their CO2 emissions. Of the 2,400 coal-fired power plants under construction or being planned around the world, 1,171 will be built in China.

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Other new technology, such as improved internet networking and computer hardware called “the internet of things,” could also increase the efficiency of coal power plants from 33 to 49 percent and cut CO2 emissions, according to a study published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Global coal production will likely continue growing slowly until at least 2021 due to rising demand in Asian countries, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Since the new technology will reduce coal’s CO2 emissions, it could help U.S. coal plants remain online while reducing emissions from Asian countries looking to comply with the Paris global warming agreement.

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