Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Thursday helped open the world's largest clean coal power plant in Texas, which is expected to begin a string of similar openings over the next few weeks.
The coal plants aren't just a boon for technological advancement in the United States, but also represent some of the only advanced power plants globally that are proven to operate on a commercial scale.
In remarks delivered at the opening of the Petra Nova plant outside Houston, Perry underscored the economic advantages the new type of coal plant offer Texas and the nation.
"While the Petra Nova project will certainly benefit Texas, it also demonstrates that clean coal technologies can have a meaningful and positive impact on the nation's energy security and economic growth," Perry said.
The plant's technology is designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which are linked to global warming. The plant employs a technology called carbon capture, designed to remove a certain percentage of carbon dioxide pollution leaving the smokestack. The plant then sends the carbon dioxide via pipeline to nearby oil fields, where it is used to assist in the extraction of crude oil.
The sale of carbon dioxide as a commodity helps to offset the added cost of the carbon capture technology. Extracting the carbon dioxide requires a large amount of electricity, which can hinder the power production capacity of the clean coal plants. The Energy Department assisted the project with grants approved under the Obama administration.
The opening of the Petra Nova plant will be followed by the opening of the massive Mississippi Power carbon capture coal plant in Kemper County. The Kemper plant, also a beneficiary of government financial support, has suffered from a number of cost overruns and delays over the years. Most recently, its opening date was pushed back to April 30, which the company is confident it will meet.
"The schedule adjustment is related to repairs of tube leaks and associated corrective actions in one of the project's syngas coolers," the company said this month. "The repairs have been completed and the new schedule reflects the time needed for restarting that portion of the plant and to achieve integrated operation of all plant systems."
The power plants should receive international attention, as a number of countries are looking to employ similar technology. A delegation of industry advisers to the International Energy Agency visited the facility earlier this year. Southern Co., the parent company of Mississippi Power, envisions licensing the Kemper plant's technology to a number of countries.
The plant uses a markedly different technology than the Petra Nova plant. The Kemper energy facility gasifies lower-grade forms of lignite coal to produce a natural gas equivalent that is burned to produce electricity. Kemper strips out the carbon dioxide before it is burned to produce electricity, whereas the facility in Texas removes the carbon after the coal has been combusted and is traveling out the flue stack.
The Texas technology would be marketed to existing coal plants to cut their emissions, while the Kemper plant will require constructing an entirely new advanced integrated gasification power plant.
Both coal plants sell their captured carbon for use in nearby oil fields.