Japan's coal hope

THE Japan Coal Energy Centre (J-COAL) has updated its roadmap to facilitate clean coal technologies (CCTs) that may become a cornerstone in the country’s post-Fukushima energy mix – and could even be exported around the world.
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Tokyo, Japan.

Anthony Barich

J-COAL former director Uichiro Yoshimura and current director Toshiro Matsuda authored a piece published in the World Coal Association’s latest edition of Cornerstone magazine, which said coal’s role in the global energy mix was not expected to change for the foreseeable future.

“Coal’s energy security related advantages such as the stability associated with long-term supplies, lack of price fluctuations and reliability as a base electricity source are especially important in Japan, where nearly all energy is imported,” the authors said.

While coal has historically provided about 20% of Japan’s primary energy, the very low capacity factor of its nuclear power plants since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 and concerns about the desire to reduce carbon dioxide emissions has led the government to review its national basic energy plan, which was approved by Cabinet recently.

“Driven by our own energy challenges and the strong need to rely on all available energy options to ensure energy security, Japan must continue to aggressively support research, development and deployment of CCTs, which are critical to addressing the environmental impacts associated with coal utilisation,” the authors said.

“Since Japan imports nearly all the coal it uses, it is focused on using high-efficiency coal-fired power plants.

“For this reason, some of the most efficient plants in the world are operating in Japan, such as the 600-megawatt USC Isogo plant, which can operate at an efficiency as high as 45%.

“In addition, because coal will continue to be increasingly deployed around the world, there is a major opportunity for the CCTs developed in Japan to be deployed globally.”

The potential to export technologies would be particularly prescient for emerging economies, which could employ CCTs to newly built plants.

For the existing fleet of plants in emerging economies, technologies that can be retrofitted will be necessary to meet various national and international goals and regulations.

It could even be required in developed countries where electricity growth is slow, the authors said.

Federal CO2 regulations could also drive the requirement for CCTs, especially in the US, which has proposed that new power plants have CO2 intensity no greater than 1000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour – a level only obtainable with carbon capture and storage for coal-fired power plants.

Regulations for existing power plants were also proposed.

The authors also noted that the European Union committed to cutting its 2020 emissions to 20% below 1990 levels, with some EU member countries and regions considering their own goals as well.

“In the UK, for example, setting a new standard [of the CO2 equivalent of 450g per kilowatt-hour] – again, achievable only with CCS, was legislated in December 2013,” the authors said.

“As a result, it is projected that from the period from 2015 to 2020, consumption of coal in the EU could decrease.”

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