There are no quick fixes to long-term energy challenges. To find solutions, governments and industry benefit from sharing resources and accelerating results. For this reason the IEA enables independent groups of experts - the Energy Technology Initiatives, or ETIs1.
Coal is an inexpensive fuel and current world reserves could provide supply for another 150 years. Yet coal combustion accounts for 29.5% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Retrofitting existing coal-fired power plants with cost-effective flue-gas treatments or replacing ageing plants with high-efficiency plants is urgently needed yet both require investments that industries and plant owners are not always willing to make. Policies and measures that include both regulation and incentives, such as technology or efficiency standards, fiscal and financial incentives, and emissions trading can be successful in prompting these investments.
The goals of the ETI focusing on the efficiency of coal-fired power plants (CCC) are to gather, assess and distribute knowledge on the energy efficient and environmentally sustainable use of coal. This includes conducting in-depth studies on topics of special interest; technical, economic and environmental performance assessments; balanced, objective reports that highlight opportunities for technology transfer; and research and development (R&D) gaps analysis. There are 11 Contracting Parties, including South Africa, and 11 Sponsors, six of which are located in IEA partner countries.
Burning coal accounts for 46% of total global mercury emissions. Mercury is highly toxic to human health. Recent efforts of the CCC aim to reduce these harmful emissions.
The CCC report, Legislation, Standards and Methods for Mercury Emissions Control, summarises the current and impending global and regional standards for mercury emissions from large-scale, coal-fired power plants. There are numerous options for mercury control. The highest levels of control are achieved with fabric filters fitted for particulate removal. In plants equipped with a full range of flue gas treatment systems with no additional equipment for mercury removal, it is possible to reduce mercury emissions to less than 3 microns per cubic metre. Blending sub-bituminous coal with bituminous coal can also significantly reduce mercury concentrations.
As mercury emissions from coal vary widely depending on the quality of the coal and the age of the plant, selecting the most appropriate control option will require expert guidance. For this reason, together with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the CCC has published the Process Optimisation Guidance Document and designed an Interactive Mercury Emission Calculation Toolwhich simulates emissions-control technologies based on the plant. These tools are available as free downloads from the UNEP and CCC websites. In January 2013, the Minamata Convention, a global legally binding instrument on mercury was signed by 140 countries. The CCC was instrumental in providing unbiased information that led to the agreement. Other CCC work on mercurcy emissions includes Economics of Mercury Control and the annual conference on Mercury Emissions.
* Source of the graph: Global Mercury Assessment 2013: Sources, Emissions, Releases and Environmental Transport. United Nations Environmental Programme Chemical Branch, Geneva, Switzerland.
For more information: www.iea-coal.org.uk
1.Information or material of the IEA Energy Technology Initiatives, or ETIs (formally organised under the auspices of an Implementing Agreement), including information or material published on this website, does not necessarily represent the views or policies of the IEA Secretariat or of the IEA’s individual Member countries. The IEA does not make any representation or warranty (express or implied) in respect of such information (including as to its completeness, accuracy or non-infringement) and shall not be held liable for any use of, or reliance on, such information.