Vastly Improved Modern Coal-Fired Power Plants

Ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants deserve clarity.

Recently, an editor dismissed ultra-supercritical coal-fired as jargon, and asked: Is there really something called an “ultra-supercritical” power plant?

Yes, there is: And everyone, engineers and average people, deserve an explanation about why they are such a great improvement over the coal-fired power plants built in the past.

They are called ultra-supercritical because they operate at very high temperatures and pressures that have been made possible by recent advances in metallurgy.

They operate at 4,350 psi, and 1,112°F, with efficiencies of 44% HHV (high heating value).

Ultra-supercritical (USC) steam generally refers to supercritical steam at more than 1,100 degrees F. Supercritical refers to when the steam undergoes a transition from a mixture of water and steam, to vapor with corresponding changes in physical properties.

While engineers are interested in the technical details, everyone should be interested in the increased efficiency.

Virtually all of the existing coal-fired power plants in the United States operate at an efficiency of 32% HHV.

USC plants with an efficiency of 44% are, therefore, nearly 40% more efficient than all but one of the existing coal-fired power plants in the United States.

This means they use roughly 40% less coal and emit approximately 40% fewer emissions, including CO2.

Ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants are an important improvement over existing coal-fired units. While they are more costly than traditional supercritical plants, they cost half as much as nuclear or integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants.

John W. Turk, only U.S. ultra-supercritical power plant. Photo courtesy of SWEPCO.
John W. Turk, only U.S. ultra-supercritical power plant. Photo courtesy of SWEPCO.

The only USC plant built in the United States is the John W. Turk, 600 MW plant in Fulton, Arkansas.

Currently, no new coal-fired power plants can be built in the United States because of EPA regulations limiting CO2 emissions. USC plant CO2 emissions are slightly above the 1,400 pounds per MWh limitation imposed by the EPA.

Coal is an important resource, with the United States having reserves that could last 400 years.

Coal, together with natural gas, can provide inexpensive baseload power for all Americans.

Ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants are a significant improvement over existing coal-fired power plants.

Additional improvements are on the way with USC plants that can operate at even higher temperatures and pressures, and with corresponding additional ,improvements in efficiency.

USC plants that can operate at 1,300 and 1,400 degrees F, are referred to as advanced ultra-supercritical (AUSC) power plants.

The new administration should move quickly to clear the way for these new, and more efficient, coal-fired power plants.


Nothing to Fear, Part 2, explores the problems of using wind and solar for generating electricity.

Nothing to Fear is available from Amazon and some independent book sellers.

Link to Amazon:


Book Cover, Nothing to Fear
Book Cover, Nothing to Fear



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