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.


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.

Generation Excellence

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.


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.

Heat Rate Improvement

New knowledge and innovative technologies are needed to increase the net thermal efficiency of existing fossil power plants during flexible and continuous operations by optimizing combustion and heat transfer processes and reducing auxiliary consumption.

Ongoing and planned R&D activities address the following topics:

  • First Principles: Improved understanding of the singular and interacting effects of fuel quality, combustion, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, heat transfer, steam condensation, environmental control, and other processes on net plant efficiency.
  • Operations & Control. Sensing, monitoring, and control innovations and advanced tools, practices, and strategies for reducing fuel consumption and controlling efficiency losses under startup, shutdown, cycling, and baseload conditions.
  • Maintenance. Advanced tools, practices, and strategies for minimizing and preventing air in-leakage, fouling, pressure drop, deposition, and other factors that reduce process efficiency.
  • Integrated Prognostics. Analytics linking fleet-wide online monitoring systems with equipment reliability and preventive maintenance databases to provide actionable operational information and guide condition-based maintenance.
  • Coal Cleaning and Drying: Advanced technologies and practices for cost-effective processing and treatment of individual coals to produce beneficiated fuels with improved heat rates and reduced environmental control requirements.
  • Parasitic Losses: Innovative practices and technologies for reducing auxiliary consumption by pumps and motors and by environmental control, thermoelectric cooling, carbon capture, and other on-site systems.
  • Components & Systems: Advanced materials and coatings, component and system designs, and repair and retrofit technologies enabling cost-effective investment in heat rate improvement projects.
  • Improved Heat Exchangers: Flue gas heat recovery, condensers with improved performance and cost.

Fuel Switching & Co-Firing

EPRI is assessing the impacts of various gas co-firing options, including benefits, economic considerations, and associated risks. Gas co-firing will reduce CO2 emissions relative to 100% coal operation due to the fact that gas has a lower carbon/hydrogen ratio than coal. The amount of the reduction will depend primarily on the co-firing rate. Secondary factors include actual relative carbon/hydrogen ratios for the two fuels, heat rates over the load range, and excess air requirements for combustion.

Next-Generation Coal & Gas

High-temperature materials and coatings, advanced power cycles, and system- and component-level innovations are needed to achieve revolutionary gains in thermal efficiency and reductions in CO2 intensity. To ensure deployment, next-generation fossil power technologies also will need to provide energy, capacity, and operational flexibility—and to accommodate carbon capture—at competitive cost.

Ongoing and planned R&D activities address the following topics:

  • Technology Assessment: Engineering, cost, and performance analysis to inform government-industry R&D planning, investment, regulation, and policy addressing next-generation fossil power options.
  • High-Efficiency Pulverized Coal: Demonstration of advanced ultra-supercritical coal plants capable of reliable long-term operation at steam temperatures up to 760°C (1400°F).
  • New Cycles: Novel power cycles integrating multiple combustion, gasification, supercritical CO2 (sCO2) working fluid, fuel cell, and other innovations to realize step-change increases in thermal efficiency.
  • Coal Gasification: Advanced gasifier designs, components, and materials for converting coal into syngas and preparing synthetic fuel for electricity production via future IGCC plants and novel power cycles.
  • Combustion Turbines & Engines: Advanced materials, coatings, components, systems, designs, and plant integration strategies for turbines with firing temperatures of 1700°C (3100°F), for pressure-gain turbine technology, and for direct-injection engines.
  • Oxygen-Enriched Combustion: Oxy-combustion and chemical looping system designs to support high-efficiency power generation and produce CO2-enriched flue gas amenable to carbon capture.
  • Fuel Cells: Advanced high-temperature materials, coatings, designs, and plant integration strategies for fuel cells offering very high thermal efficiency and operational flexibility.
  • Poly-generation: Integrated plant designs for transforming fossil fuel and other resource inputs into electricity and value-added products such as clean fuels, desalinated water, and industrial and specialty chemicals, including combined heat and power (CHP) systems.
  • Reciprocating Engines: Power plants with gas and oil-firing; often in quick start and flexible operation combined with high efficiency and low costs.

Carbon Management

Advanced capture technologies and plant integration strategies are needed to reduce the performance penalties and cost impacts of controlling CO2 emissions at existing fossil generating capacity. Capture breakthroughs—along with end-to-end systems for ensuring safe and permanent geological storage—are essential to sustain the economic viability of central-station fossil power consistent with global climate stabilization targets.

Ongoing and planned R&D activities address the following topics:

  • First Principles: Improved knowledge and quantitative modeling of the properties needed for effective CO2separation by adsorbents, membranes, solvents, and cryogenic processes for optimal performance of integrated capture systems.
  • Technology Assessment: Engineering, cost, and performance analysis to inform deployment, asset management, R&D planning, investment, policy, regulation, and other decisions relating to carbon capture, storage, and utilization.
  • Near-Term Capture: Guidance, tools, practices, and demonstrated technologies for lowering the capital and operating costs and improving the flexing capability of pre- and post-combustion capture systems deployed prior to 2030.
  • Breakthrough Capture: Laboratory testing, process simulation, and scale-up demonstration to accelerate commercialization of innovative capture concepts and systems having greatly reduced parasitic energy losses.
  • Processing, Handling, and Transport: CO2polishing and compression will be needed in many carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) applications. Efforts to improve these technologies will be a scouting focus at EPRI.  Transport via pipeline is well-proven, but ship-based transport needs advancement.
  • Geological Storage: Guidance, tools, standards, and demonstrated technologies and reservoir management practices for safe, permanent, and environmentally acceptable sequestration of large quantities of CO2.
  • Utilization: Guidance, tools, practices, standards, and demonstrated technologies for enhanced oil and gas recovery (EOR, EGR) and other approaches to utilization of carbon in complement with geologic storage.

Bulk Energy Storage

Large-scale energy storage systems are needed to allow fossil plants to operate at full load—and thus peak thermal efficiency and minimum CO2 intensity—at times when they might otherwise cycle in response to changing grid conditions.

Such systems include:

  • Thermal storage
  • Phase change materials for thermal and chemical energy storage
  • Compressed air storage (CAES)

Ongoing and planned R&D activities address the following topics:

  • Assessment: Engineering, cost, and performance analysis to inform government-industry R&D planning, investment, policy, and regulation addressing bulk energy storage.
  • Innovation: Advanced components and subsystems for compressed air, pumped hydro, molten salt, thermochemical, hydrogen, and other systems enabling affordable and reliable bulk storage.