Order Code RS20877
April 6, 2001
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
The Clean Coal Technology Program:
Carl E. Behrens
Specialist in Energy Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
The Clean Coal Technology (CCT) program, started in the 1980's and funded
generously in the early 1990's, has completed most of its surviving projects and has not
funded any new ones since 1994. However, President Bush’s FY2002 budget outline
proposed spending $2 billion over 10 years on a restructured CCT program. It is not
clear what kind of projects would be included in the new program.
Background and History
The Clean Coal Technology (CCT) Program was started in 1984 as a vestige of the
defunct Synthetic Fuels Corporation, a government corporation created to help develop
new fuels from domestic sources. By 1990 Congress had appropriated approximately $2.6
billion for the program, and the Department of Energy (DOE) selected and made costsharing cooperative agreements for a large number of projects of varying size and
technologies. By the mid-1990s, the potential for adoption of most CCT technologies by
industry without government subsidy began to dim, and DOE in 1994 recommended that
no further projects be funded. Since then, approximately $300 million of previously
appropriated funding has been rescinded, and other funding has been deferred – including
$67 million in FY2001. President Bush’s FY2002 budget outline, however, proposed
spending $2 billion over 10 years on a restructured CCT program, with the same industrial
cost-sharing principle as the existing program.
CCT Technologies. The CCT program currently has 40 projects on its books, of
which 24 have been completed and seven are operating. One is under construction, six are
in the design stage, and two are on hold. (For details, see the CCT web site at
These projects fall into four general categories:
Environmental Control Devices. Many of the early CCT projects were
retrofits of existing powerplants to demonstrate emission control
technologies as alternatives to traditional scrubbers or to conversion to
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low-sulfur coal. The 19 projects in this category were designed to control
nitrogen oxide (NO x) emissions, sulfur dioxide (SO 2) emissions, or both.
All but two of these projects are completed; one is still operating, and one
is on hold at the design stage because the main participant is in
Advanced Electric Power Generation. The most expensive CCT projects
are advanced power generating facilities, of three main types: atmospheric
fluidized bed (AFB) burners, pressurized fluidized bed (PFB) plants, and
integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plants. Proponents of
these technologies cited the potential of more efficient use of the energy
content of coal, as well as their ability to burn coal cleanly without
conventional scrubbers, as overcoming their higher cost than conventional
coal plants. One AFB project was completed, and another is in the design
stage. One PFB plant project was completed, and two are in design.
Three IGCC plants were built and are in the operating stage, and one is
Coal Processing. Five current CCT projects were aimed at converting
“run-of-the-mill” coals to high-energy, low-sulfur products. The projects
were viewed as having both a domestic and an export market for the
technology and the improved coal. Two projects were completed, two are
operating, and one is on hold.
Industrial Processes. Using coal to replace coke in steelmaking, enabling
cement makers to use low-sulfur coal, and converting industry burners to
coal from oil or gas, were some of the goals of the industrial CCT
program. Three industrial projects were completed, and two are in the
Status of CCT Projects, 2000
Program Analysis and Prognosis
For most of the 1990's, natural gas was viewed as the fuel of choice for electric
power generation. The price of gas to utilities since 1986 was low compared to historical
levels, and was projected to remain low in light of ample supplies. New technology, in the
form of combined cycle turbine and steam generation, increased generating efficiency
greatly, reducing fuel costs even more. Many utilities were recovering from two decades
of financial disaster caused by trying to build large, capital-intensive nuclear and coal
plants in times of high interest rates and slow growth in demand for electricity. If they
needed new capacity, and many did not, they were attracted to gas plants, which could be
built quickly in small units for relatively low capital investment. Federal legislation,
especially the Energy Policy Act of 1992, also encouraged construction of powerplants by
unregulated non-utility entities, and most of these were gas-fired.
In addition to these economic advantages, natural gas was also environmentally less
objectionable than coal. The 1990 Clear Air Act Amendments imposed severe restraints
on SO 2 emissions from both existing and new coal plants, and the growing concern about
carbon dioxide (CO 2) emissions as a global climate change instigator put coal at a further
disadvantage, since CO 2 emissions from coal are significantly higher than from gas.
In the context of these factors, the Clean Coal Technology program received little
encouragement from the Clinton Administration and the Congress during the 1990's. Of
the major categories of CCT projects, the Environmental Control and Coal Preparation
technologies, even when successful, were not competitive with conventional scrubbing or
switching to low-sulfur coal, and none were directed to the problem of CO 2 emissions.
The Advanced Power Generation technologies, including fluidized bed and IGCC, could
not compete with gas-fired combined cycle with natural gas prices as low as they were.
Industrial Processes, with a small existing market for coal, also found it difficult to
New Administration, New Economics. The summer of 2000 brought an abrupt
end to the ample supplies and low prices of natural gas. The sudden and unexpected
movement in prices was typically volatile behavior of large commodity markets, but the
volatility tends to be forgotten in periods of long, steady price decline. Among other
factors, the price increase precipitated the crisis in California’s electric power sector. It
also shattered expectations that gas would be reliably available at low prices whenever
utility needs demanded it, and revived the traditional utility view that a variety of fuels and
power sources may be worth investing in even if some of them are more costly than others.
Reasoning of this sort may be behind the Bush Administration’s proposal to revive
the CCT program. In addition, de-emphasis on CO 2 emissions and the repudiation of the
Kyoto Global Climate Change Treaty have removed for the time being some the
environmental pressures on coal. However, unless new restrictions on SO 2 and NO x
emissions are imposed on coal-fired generation – and some bills have been introduced to
do that – there is not much demand for the new environmental control technologies that
the CCT program has pursued so far. Pending regulatory requirements for existing coalfired powerplants, such as the NO x State Implementation Plan (SIP) call, can be met with
currently demonstrated technologies such as selective catalytic reduction (SCR), and all
new plants are effectively required to install conventional scrubbers and SCR, which are
as effective as any of the CCT technologies in removing SO 2 and NO x.
Similarly, the power generation technologies sponsored by the existing CCT program,
while appearing more competitive with natural gas prices so unexpectedly high, will have
to compete in a market which is likely to see gas supplies increase rapidly and prices fall
once again. Nevertheless, the memory of gas price volatility and the advisability of a
varied fuel mix for power generation may make that competition easier, especially if the
new technologies can achieve the increased efficiencies hoped for by their proponents.
In addition to the Administration’s budget proposal to increase funding for CCT
programs, the National Electricity and Environmental Technology Act (S. 60), introduced
by Senator Byrd, is aimed at stimulating coal use. The main feature of S. 60 would allow
tax credits for investments in CCT units and commercial applications of CCT technology.
On the other side of the issue, legislation has been introduced to require further
reductions of emissions from powerplants. H.R. 25, introduced by Representative
Sweeney, is aimed at reducing acid deposition by restricting SO 2 and NO x emissions.
H.R. 1335, introduced by Representative Allen, would reduce emissions of mercury, SO
2 and NO x , and carbon dioxide from fossil-fired powerplants. As noted above, such
legislation if passed could provide a market for some of the emissions control technologies
sponsored in the CCT program.