West Virginia has a long, proud history as one of our nation’s top coal-producing states. In recent years, the industry associated with this abundant resource has been challenged as the demand for coal by the existing fleet of coal-fired power plants has declined. However, a strong future remains for coal with growth markets for coal in manufactured products, the use of metallurgical coal for steelmaking, exports of high-quality West Virginia coal and coal-based products, and the use of coal in a next generation of coal-fired power plants.
The Department of Energy’s (DOE) recent report, The Appalachian Energy and Petrochemical Renaissance, highlights these emerging market opportunities for coal and how DOE research and innovation, conducted in partnership with industry, will help create new economic opportunities for coal mining and utilization. That research is primarily driven by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Morgantown and Pittsburgh. There are three major areas where DOE is investing to help secure a place for Appalachian coal in America’s energy future.
The first is DOE’s Coal FIRST (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, and Transformative) Initiative, which is aimed at advancing the next generation of coal-fueled power plants to provide secure, stable, and reliable electricity. DOE-led research and development will enable coal power plants of the future to produce zero, or even net-negative, in carbon emissions, while operating more reliably and enabling quick and flexible delivery of electricity during extreme weather events when intermittent sources of electricity are not available.
In addition, Coal FIRST is developing technologies to convert coal to hydrogen, which also has zero or even negative carbon dioxide emissions, which can be used for electricity generation, transportation, or be stored for later use. The department is investing heavily in these technologies, with nearly $200 million in funding opportunities made available over the past year.
The second area is the development of carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technology, which is proving we can produce reliable energy and maintain America’s position as the world leader in energy-related emissions reduction. This technology is not only focused on coal and gas electricity production emissions; recently, DOE announced $131 million in funding for CCUS research and development with a specific focus on industrial-sourced emissions. Additionally, DOE’s “carbon utilization” investments are making significant advances in turning carbon dioxide from coal and other sources into high-value products such as plastic.
Finally, DOE is investing in research and development that could prove fundamental to the “coal-to-products” industry, which uses the value of carbon to expand the coal value chain. The innovative technologies developed by entrepreneurs in industry, academia, and at NETL produce high-value products like building material, carbon fiber, and 3D printing materials from coal feedstocks. Also underway are efforts to extract the critical and rare earth minerals needed to make high-tech products, batteries, and critical defense infrastructure from coal and its byproducts. Within the last six months, DOE announced more than $30 million in funding for research to advance coal-to-products projects.
In addition to domestic benefits, each of these technologies offers the chance for the United States to export our energy expertise around the world.
This energy trade will help our friends and partners reduce their reliance on nations who do not share our values for their energy supplies, while simultaneously providing energy diversity in meeting their needs, and fostering prosperity for their citizens.
West Virginians know better than most that fossil energy sources have experienced their share of booms and busts. But innovations, like those in development at DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, the only national lab dedicated to fossil energy R&D, can reinvigorate the coal industry and advance new, creative uses for coal that will bring jobs and economic growth to the Appalachian region.