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The Role of Low Emission Coal Technologies in a Net Zero Asian Future

May 9, 2022 - There is a widely held assumption that there must be an end to the use of coal to achieve net zero emissions (NZE). For much of Asia, it is not feasible to phase out unabated coal in the coming decades as it remains the dominant source of energy, because of its low cost and ease of availability. Many Asian countries have relatively fast-growing economies and populations, which are also becoming more urban. Thus, demand for energy, electricity and infrastructure is growing – all of which are carbon-intensive. There is much that Asian countries can do to approach NZE, starting with the deployment of low emission coal technologies (LECT).

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is a necessary part of Asia’s transition to NZE because coal will remain important for many years for existing industry, such as electricity generation and industrial processes that are hard to abate; and new industries, such as bioenergy, hydrogen, ammonia and dimethyl ether (DME). Asia, and in particular China, should become a key focus for the roll?out of commercial CCUS, where large scale projects are underway.

Emissions from coal-fired power plants can be reduced by cofiring biomass with coal and increasing the efficiency of units. Japan is pursuing cofiring low emissions ammonia, produced from fossil fuels with CCUS, or from water electrolysis using electricity. All new, large coal units should adopt high efficiency, low emissions (HELE) ultrasupercritical (USC) conditions and best-available pollutant controls. Alternative power generation systems such as those based on supercritical CO2 also have potential in the transition to NZE.

A portfolio approach to decarbonise industry and the chemicals sector will be needed, including ‘fuel’ switching to low emissions fuels of hydrogen and ammonia, biomass as a carbon neutral fuel, improved energy efficiency, and deployment of current best available and future innovative technologies including CCUS.