Clean Coal

Clean Coal is intended to mitigate the harmful effects of coal consumption, including the reduction of greenhouse gases and air pollution.

How the effects that CO2 emissions generated from coal consumption affect our atmosphere are well known. However, coal is a problem that is not going away. It is cheap and plentiful, which is why emerging nations like China and India have been building more coal fired plants. Now they are looking at ways to mitigate the environmental damage, using cleaner methods to burn coal for electricity.

Specifically, the term 'clean coal' refers to several approaches.

  • 'Scrubbers' and other technologies that remove greenhouse gases like Sulfur and Nitrous Oxides before exhaust is released.
  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS), where CO2 emissions are pumped and stored underground or used to extract oil or natural gas from depleted wells.
  • Gasification, where coal is turned into a syngas, used to create various types of fuel.

According to the latest reports from research and consulting firm GlobalData, while coal accounted for a substantial 62% share of China’s overall installed capacity in 2014, contributing to its status as the world’s biggest polluter, the country is showing signs of embracing Clean Coal technology for its new and existing power plants. In India, Clean Coal capacity is expected to increase by approximately 103 Gigawatts (GW) between 2016 and 2025, as the country seeks to meet demands for electricity. 


China has implemented tighter emission standards for coal-fired power plants, says Sowmyavadhana Srinivasan, GlobalData's Senior Analyst covering Power, including reduced allowances for sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and soot. The country has also agreed to limit the greenhouse gases it produces, with a cap expected to be announced this year, all to help reduce its carbon footprint. According to Ms. Srinivasan:

"Government policies, laws, and regulations are encouraging the construction of large-scale, coal-fired units with higher efficiency, lower water usage, and more effective emission controls. These technologies will require the installation of power plant units based on supercritical and ultra-supercritical technology with [a] capacity greater than 600 Megawatts (MW), along with circulating fluidized bed and integrated gasification combined cycle units with [a] capacity greater than 300 MW."

Essentially, supercritical technology has been used for decades and is generally considered the system of choice for new commercial coal-fired plants the world over, operating at increasingly higher temperatures and pressures, leading to an increase in efficiency and lower CO2 emissions. Ultra-supercritical steam technology is currently being researched and is under further development, which should result in units operating at even higher efficiencies, with an approximate 50% increase in productivity, with the introduction of new technology being driven in recent years by Denmark, Germany, and Japan.   

Reportedly, China’s installed coal capacity will increase from 846 Gigawatts (GW) in 2014 to an estimated 1,016 GW by 2018 and the country will continue to lead the world by 2025, reaching over 1,367 GW. Currently, China restricts approval for coal-fired units that require coal consumption higher than 300 grams of coal equivalent (gce) per kilowatt hour (kWh), or 305 gce per kWh when air-cooled, and restrictions also apply to conventional coal-fired units with a capacity of less than 300 MW, with additions being driven by new power plants equipped with Clean Coal technology, in addition to retrofitting projects at older plants. GlobalData forecasts Clean Coal capacity in China to increase by 508 GW between 2016 and 2025, with a market expected to generate approximately $1,141 billion. 


In regards to India, Ms. Srinivasan cites an increase in population and industrialization, an improved standard of living, and robust economic growth as factors contributing to further demands for electricity.

“Between 2013 and 2014, India experienced a deficit of 4.5% in terms of the electricity supply available to fulfill peak demand. The country is not fully electrified and is subject to a large number of power cuts and power reliability uncertainties. In order to resolve this, India urgently requires many new installations, with coal [being] a significant contributor. India has a policy that most mega power plants have to secure coal imports internationally. This means that if there is a shift in the international coal community, it will affect the coal power plants in India, which adds to the risks involved with setting them up. Furthermore, under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), India aims to generate 15% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. As a consequence, alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power, may impact the adoption of clean coal technologies."

As Ms. Srinivasan warns, growth in India’s Clean Coal market could be limited by fluctuations in the international coal market and the domestic government’s increased emphasis on the use of cleaner fuels for power generation. With coal as the leading source of power generation in India in 2014 with 160 GW, accounting for 59% of installed capacity, consumption is expected to almost double by 2025 in order to meet the country's demands for electricity.