This roadmap defines R&D pathways to reduce the CO2 intensity of fossil fuel-fired power plants. These pathways include improving the thermal efficiency of existing coal- and gas-fired power plants, advancing new higher-efficiency generation options, and reducing the costs and uncertainties of carbon capture and storage.
Innovations are being pursued in the following areas:
- Sensing, monitoring, heat transfer, and process control for heat rate improvement
- Fuel switching and co-firing
- Advanced coal and gas power cycles, systems, components, and plants
- Thermal and other non-battery energy storage technologies
- Carbon capture and storage processes and pilots
These evolutionary and revolutionary innovations can provide power producers worldwide with a broad portfolio of low-carbon generation options allowing continued use of fossil fuels suitable for future electric power markets: lower emissions, lower marginal costs, greater operational flexibility, and superior reliability.
Improving the heat rate of existing plants can not only lower their CO2 intensity but also increase their productivity and cost-effectiveness. Next-generation power cycles can enable step-change efficiency gains and emission reductions. Energy storage can help reduce cyclic power demand by allowing fossil assets to run at peak efficiency rather than cycling or operating at minimum load in response to changing grid conditions.
New knowledge can enable lower-cost carbon capture and long-term geologic storage by mitigating cost, permitting, and performance uncertainties. Breakthrough capture processes can reduce the cost of achieving CO2 limits at current and future plants and may enable biomass power generation with net-negative carbon emissions.
KEY INDUSTRY NEEDS
Diversity of Generation
Gas pricing, environmental regulation, and wind and solar power deployment in confluence are forcing early retirement of coal-fired plants and the potential for significant additional losses in dispatchable capacity—a reliability challenge as variable-output generation grows. Heat rate improvement based on incremental advances as well as co-firing of natural gas or biomass can provide a low-cost path toward extended operations. Low-carbon innovations offering revolutionary cost-performance advantages are needed to allow continued reliance on fossil power generation consistent with global climate stabilization targets.
Fossil-fired boilers and combined-cycle gas plants have switched roles in some markets in response to the changing mix of resources available to serve load. New mission profiles represent an additional challenge to heat rate improvement for units facing CO2 constraints, while future highly efficient low-carbon fossil fuel power plants must be optimized to allow for flexible operations in areas with high solar and wind penetration. Fuel cell technology opens up multiple pathways toward future fossil power, but commercially available systems do not fare well under cycling conditions. Bulk energy storage could provide an alternative to designing fossil power plants for flexible operations. Carbon capture and storage on both coal and gas-fired power plants can help achieve deep decarbonization goals of the power sector.
Near Zero Emissions
Power producers worldwide increasingly face the twin challenges of satisfying stakeholder expectations regarding climate change and of meeting CO2 standards through trading programs and proscriptive limits on emissions. Investing in existing assets and managing generation fleets to reduce CO2 intensity create opportunities for reducing consumption of finite fuel and freshwater resources, as well as emissions of conventional pollutants. Bulk energy storage could reduce cycling-related efficiency losses and displace higher-emitting peaking units. Advanced power cycles and carbon capture technologies—coupled with CO2 storage options—are essential to meet a growing world’s needs for energy while making large-scale emission reductions economically feasible.
Existing fossil power plants were designed to be reliable, safe, and efficient with the best knowledge of the time. Today, both requirements and the technology to address those requirements have changed. Additionally, carbon capture technology imposes significant parasitic energy losses and cost increases. In regions requiring substantial reductions in CO2 emissions, minimizing the expense of doing so is necessary to support continued economical operation of current assets and investment in new fossil capacity. Advanced plants based on oxy-fired processes (such as pressurized oxy-combustion and chemical looping), on coal combustion or gasification, gas or coal fired supercritical CO2-based power cycles, fuel cells, reciprocating engine plants, and other technologies have the potential to provide significant cost and emission reductions through increased efficiency and with integrated environmental controls and carbon capture.
Sensors and Controls & Power System Transformation
Innovations in connectivity technology—embodied today by handheld electronics and tomorrow by wearable inspection platforms, embedded sensors, and intelligent and adaptive controllers—create opportunities for reducing heat rate through higher-precision plant monitoring and management. Future low-carbon generating assets as well as energy storage plants, connected to the integrated grid and enterprise systems, are expected to offer the capability to dynamically optimize process conditions and performance across multiple complex objectives, maximizing generation efficiency across all operating loads with least cost, and within equipment integrity and life constraints.
As senior and expert personnel depart, new workers with different skills and capabilities—notably lifelong experience with digital technologies—are entering the power generation industry. Successful heat rate improvement at existing units is contingent on capturing and transferring expert knowledge to next-generation workers while leveraging their specific talents. Advanced fossil power and energy storage plants will require new engineering, operations, and maintenance skills. By designing future low-carbon assets as networked components, processes, and systems, power producers have the opportunity to fully capitalize on the digital workforce.
By the mid-2020s, existing fossil power plants owned by EPRI members will be operating as cost-effective, lower-emitting assets based on successful implementation of holistic heat rate improvement programs. In addition, a new generation of high-efficiency power generation and carbon capture technologies will be in various stages of pilots preparing for commercial-scale demonstration.
Power producers worldwide will benefit from having a robust portfolio of options available for reducing emissions from current generating fleets and for taking advantage of abundant fossil fuel supplies to meet future needs for energy and capacity consistent with emission reduction, economic development, cost, and other objectives.
At existing plants, incremental gains in thermal efficiency will be realized through investment, advancements in operations, and maintenance methodologies that account for design attributes and process fundamentals, fuel characteristics, ambient conditions, environmental standards, mission profiles, and other factors. Heat rates will be lowered without adverse impacts on flexibility, emission controls, or all-in costs. Where available, cost-effective bulk energy storage will allow plants to operate with higher capacity factors and closer to peak thermal efficiencies. This will support further system-wide emissions by reducing reliance on inefficient peaking units.
Advanced CO2 capture technologies with improved performance will be able to decrease the cost of achieving deeper region-specific reductions. Proven end-to-end capture and storage systems, reduced uncertainties for deep geologic storage, and new integration options will facilitate technology deployment for retrofit applications and new fossil plants.
Revolutionary new power cycles will allow future coal, gas, and biomass plants to achieve low CO2 intensity, some which also result in carbon capture, and other desirable performance attributes. Reliable operation at efficiencies 10 percent above today’s technologies will be demonstrated based on innovations in materials, working fluids, gasifiers, compressors, fuel cells, combustion turbines, and plant designs. Higher capital costs will be more than offset by decreased resource inputs and increased unit productivities, enabling technology diffusion in areas of the world where generating capacity is rapidly expanding.
Around 2030, next-generation carbon capture concepts will be ready for early commercial projects demonstrating the feasibility of achieving large-scale CO2 reductions across generating fleets. Membrane, sorbent, solvent, cryogenic and process innovations will exhibit lower capital costs with reduced parasitic energy losses to help extend the lifetime of aging coal and gas assets and significantly reduce emissions with high efficiency from newer builds.
AREAS OF FOCUS
The 5-year Generation Sector program plans address immediate R&D priorities for reducing CO2 emissions at existing plants, as well as from near-term deployment of conventional fossil units and integrated coal gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technologies.
This roadmap defines collaborative R&D pathways for reducing emissions from proven technologies and for accelerating commercialization of revolutionary low-CO2 fossil generation options over a timeframe 5 to 10 years out, and some beyond. Areas of focus are introduced below.
Relevant R&D is under way or anticipated across the Generation Sector’s base programs and through collaborative projects engaging EPRI members, government agencies, and other stakeholders in developing and testing higher-temperature materials, advanced power cycles, end-to-end carbon capture and storage systems, CO2 reservoir management practices, and other innovations.
This roadmap also encompasses ongoing and planned work through EPRI’s Technology Innovation (TI) program.