Why HELE Matters

Why HELE Matters

There is a constant drumbeat of anti-coal news in the media.

Some of the anti-coal news is fostered by AGW environmentalists who claim the world needs to cut CO2 emissions, while the most recent science points to the sun as being the primary cause of global warming. Some negative reporting is the result of historic pollution issues concerning coal. For example, there was the widely reported threat of acid rain as the result of sulfur-dioxide emissions.

The average efficiency of coal-fired power plants, prior to the recent advances in metallurgy, was 33%.

In spite of these inefficient plants, the US cut air pollution dramatically.

Scrubbers and other emission controls on coal-fired power plants helped improve air quality.

From EPA Website

With advances in metallurgy, it’s now possible to build coal-fired power plants that operate at very high temperatures and pressures, which dramatically improves efficiency and cuts emissions further.

These Ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants, now referred to as high-efficiency low emission (HELE) power plants, have efficiencies of 45%, which is a huge improvement over the historic 33% efficiency of old coal-fired power plants.

HELE plants produce some of the least costly electricity with few emissions. China refers to them as clean-coal power plants. See, The Truth About Coal, China, and Smog 

Japan turns to HELE power plants

Japan has decided to build 45 new coal-fired power plants to replace the power lost from closed nuclear power plants. Most of these will probably be HELE plants.

Japan imports 95% of its energy, mostly LNG. Coal is less expensive and the national energy plan calls for coal to provide 26% of Japan’s electricity by 2030.

While nuclear plants will be restarted and are projected to provide 22% of Japan’s electricity, with renewables providing 22%, fossil fuel power plants will provide 56% of Japan’s electricity.

The use of coal will probably eliminate any prospect of Japan meeting its Paris Accord CO2 emission commitments. 

HELE for the United States

Only one HELE coal-fired power plant, the 665-MW John Turk Jr. plant in Arkansas, has been built in the United States, before the EPA established CO2 emission requirements that prohibited the building of any new coal-fired power plants.

The EPA established that coal-fired power plants could not emit more than 1,400 pounds of CO2 per MWh, which prevented the building of any coal-fired power plants that didn’t use carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). CCS is a fools errand: It’s expensive and is not feasible at the scale needed, and there is no assurance that CO2 will remain trapped underground.

It now appears as though the EPA will review the CO2 emission requirements and allow HELE power plants to be built.

HELE can meet all other EPA emission requirements and generate inexpensive electricity for everyone’s benefit. They can be a boon to the economy while not threatening air quality.

HELE plants could become the standard around the world, with Australia investigating their use and with China already promoting them.

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3 Replies to “Why HELE Matters”

  1. As you document, air pollution from coal-fired power plants have been greatly reduced over time.
    But the “sleeper” issue with coal is and will increasingly be the large amounts of toxic heavy metals present in coal ash waste produced by power plants. Combusting coal greatly concentrates these metals over that of coal itself. And being fine-grained, this ash is subject to wind and water erosion and entering waterways.
    Little thought is given to most coal ash “dumps”, but increasingly they will be viewed the same as nuclear waste sites and toxic chemical waste sites and require similar types of clean-up.

    • You are correct that coal ash can be a problem if it isn’t handled correctly. There are several examples of coal ash being involved in flooding and otherwise being a problem.
      Properly managed it isn’t a threat to the environment and can be used in various products such as wallboard.
      Thanks for your comment.