The US Department of Energy (DOE) has committed $64m in federal funding for the cost-shared research and development (R&D) of smaller, more efficient, and cleaner coal-fired power plants, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company. The additional funding is part of DOE’s Coal Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, and Transformative (FIRST) initiative kicked off in 2019, which aims to develop coal-fired power plants of the future that will provide secure, stable, reliable power with near-zero emissions. The coal funding is, however, lower than the $125.5m DOE announced for solar research.

In 2019, DOE selected 13 under-development cleaner coal-fired cost-shared R&D projects for approximately $1.95m funding. In April 2019, DOE had committed $87.3m for advanced coal technologies and research. Later, DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE) had issued a notice of intent for an upcoming Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), for critical components for Coal FIRST power plants of the future, which will make available up to approximately $100m for R&D projects.

With the continuing momentum in renewable energy capacity addition by utilities and independent power producers (IPPs) and the long-term plans put in place by these companies for renewable energy capacity additions and coal-based generation capacity decommissioning, there is a remote possibility that a large baseload coal power plant can be built in future in the US.

The cumulative coal capacity declined from 342.30GW in 2010 to 257.14 GW in 2019 at a negative compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.4% during 2010–19. It is estimated that 5.8 GW of US coal capacity is scheduled to retire in 2020 and three-quarters of new generating capacity will be from renewable energy; approximately 21.4GW of coal capacity will go offline by 2024.

US, Cumulative Capacity (GW), Coal, 2010–19

Source: GlobalData’s Power Intelligence Center.

Coal as a percentage of US electricity generation is declining, and there is not much chance that coal will return to its early days of glory, but the DOEs investments in R&D for cleaner coal technologies are expected to develop the next generation of coal plants and use the coal resource in an environmentally responsible manner. With a vision of coal fleet of small units, sized 50MW to 350MW, with high efficiency and close-to-zero emissions, the coal industry is looking to minimise financial risks.