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"Clean coal technology" describes a new generation of energy processes that sharply reduce air emissions and other pollutants from coal-burning power plants.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the U.S. Department of Energy conducted a joint program with industry and State agencies to demonstrate the best of these new technologies at scales large enough for companies to make commercial decisions. More than 20 of the technologies tested in the original program achieved commercial success.
The early program, however, was focused on the environmental challenges of the time - primarily concerns over the impact of acid rain on forests and watersheds. In the 21st century, additional environmental concerns have emerged - the potential health impacts of trace emissions of mercury, the effects of microscopic particles on people with respiratory problems, and the potential global climate-altering impact of greenhouse gases.
With coal likely to remain one of the nation's lowest-cost electric power sources for the foreseeable future, the United States has pledged a new commitment to even more advanced clean coal technologies.
Building on the successes of the original program, the new clean coal initiative encompasses a broad spectrum of research and large-scale projects that target today's most pressing environmental challenges.
The Clean Coal Power Initiative is providing government co-financing for new coal technologies that can help utilities cut sulfur, nitrogen and mercury pollutants from power plants. Also, some of the early projects are showing ways to reduce greenhouse emissions by boosting the efficiency by which coal plants convert coal to electricity or other energy forms.
In January of 2003, eight projects were selected under the first round CCPI solicitation, of which two were withdrawn. Of the remaining six projects supported by the first round of the CCPI, one was discontinued before award, two were discontinued during project development, and three have been completed.
In October of 2004, four projects were selected from the second round CCPI solicitation. One project has since been withdrawn. Of the remaining three projects, two are under development and one has been completed. The two projects under development will demonstrate advanced IGCC technology. One of these projects (Southern/Kemper County) has begun construction.
A third round CCPI solicitation is underway and is focused on developing projects that utilize carbon sequestration technologies and/or beneficial reuse of carbon dioxide. Due to an additional $800 million of funding added to the CCPI Program through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act), Round Three was conducted through two separate solicitations. Of the six overall projects selected, three projects from Round Three (HECA, Summitt and NRG) are still active.