Company’s Quest to Make Coal Cleaner Before it Burns

A New York-based company is trumpeting a new technology that executives say promises to make coal more potent and cleaner for power generation.

Companies and the government have spent billions of dollars on trying to reduce emissions from coal plants. Clean Coal Technologies Inc. wants to be part of the solution by enhancing the coal itself before sending it to power producers.

“We’ve got a lot of people from around the world looking at us,” CEO Robin Eves said during a recent interview, dropping names like India’s Jindal Steel and Power Ltd.

In essence, Clean Coal Technologies’ initial design is meant to remove moisture from coal in a way that increases its value. Dehydrating can make low-quality coal more attractive to power plants.

Eves wrote in a follow-up email that reducing moisture increases the British thermal unit value of the coal, “producing a more efficient fuel as a result. As a consequence, users will be reducing their carbon footprint by using less fuel (burning less coal).”

A less humid coal can be a lighter coal, Eves said, making it more cost-effective for companies to ship around the country. “You are producing a more efficient coal, a drier coal. You ship less of it, you use less of it,” Eves said. “We do reduce the carbon footprint.”

In 2013, Clean Coal Technologies announced a pilot plant adjacent to an existing AES Corp. power generator in Oklahoma (Greenwire, Sept. 20, 2013). On Friday, the company said it had conducted another successful test for its initial Pristine-M system.

“Alongside the previous testing results, we can confidently say that the moisture level of the stabilized coal can be reduced to levels desired by the end customer,” Eves said in a statement. “Simply put, we have completely validated the dehydration process section of the Pristine M Technology.”

‘Totally disruptive’
Beyond Pristine-M, Clean Coal Technologies is developing technology focused more on reducing “volatiles” from coal — impurities that lead to harmful regulated emissions.

“It’s a totally disruptive technology,” Eves said during the interview, adding that previous efforts have “failed or been way too expensive.”

Moisture removed from raw coal leaves the drying system as steam. Photo courtesy Clean Coal

Electric Power Research Institute leaders, whose members include utilities that burn coal for power generation, say increased emissions regulations have led to more interest in coal conditioning systems. They did not speak specifically about CCT.

Jose Sanchez, EPRI technical leader, said one plant in North Dakota burning lowquality lignite coal has technology to dry and condition coal prior to combustion. “They have been successful with it. I believe they have met their goals,” Sanchez said.

Still, the technologies are by no means widespread. Not only have efforts failed to meet the needs of a wide variety of plants, power producers have specific needs and cost concerns.

“So you have to find a trade-off point,” said Sanchez, stressing the need to find a “sweet spot” where pre-combustion efforts could complement a plant’s existing technology without making the process too expensive. “There may be a good window for coal-cleaning technologies in general.”

Regulators like U.S. EPA and companies have described the increased scrutiny on coal power plants as an opportunity for innovation. But efforts have yet to make a significant impact in helping coal fight its headwinds. A significant hurdle to overcome is convincing investors that coal-related technologies are worthy investments as developed countries and even some coalhungry developing nations seek to reduce reliance on the fuel.

“We are now on a clear path to commercialization and an eventual up-listing to a national exchange,” Eves said in a statement. Eves called coal a “very logical bridge to the future” and cited statistics showing that coal will continue being a significant global force. “It’s not going to go away. And it’s not going to go away here.”
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