A U.S. power plant is set to become the first in the country to use “clean coal.” Mississippi’s Kemper coal gasification power plant, built by Southern Company, will use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to strip out 65 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions and store them underground.
“The carbon footprint is essentially the same or maybe even less than a natural gas plant that doesn’t have carbon capture,” said Randall Rush, a Southern Company engineer, in an interview with The Guardian.
Some are saying the plant will prove that there is a future for coal in the American energy industry.
But others, including Southern Company itself, argue that the Kemper facility may not be easy to replicate.
Mississippi is rich in low-rank lignite coal, which means the plant can mine its own cheap fuel on-site. The facility plans to sell the captured carbon dioxide to nearby oil fields to pump more oil out of older wells, in a process called enhanced oil recovery.
“The location of the Kemper County Energy Facility … makes the plant the right choice for Mississippi,” Tim Lelejdal, a Southern Company spokesperson, told The Guardian. But, he continues, the “facility should not serve as a primary basis for new emissions standards impacting on all new coal-fired power plants.”
Kemper is not the first project to integrate coal-fired power plants with CCS technology. Saskatchewan’s Boundary Dam project is expected to go into operation this year. Like Kemper, Boundary Dam is sitting on a coal mine and will sell carbon dioxide to be used in enhanced oil recovery.
If these projects are successful, they could ensure that coal will continue to be an important part of the energy mix in the U.S. and Canada. But many environmental groups say it’s time to stop investing in polluting fossil fuels.
“It’s expensive, it’s dirty, and it’s unnecessary,” Louie Miller, director of the Mississippi Sierra Club told The Guardian.