Company opens clean-coal facility

The Southern Company today officially opened a new clean-coal research facility in Wilsonville, Ala. The project, funded in large part by the U.S. Department of Energy, is the most advanced test facility of its type in the world. It will serve as an experimental model for technologies that could be used in the coal-fired power plants of the 21st century.

“The potential environmental and economic benefits this project promises are astounding,” said Paul DeNicola, president of Southern Company Services, the subsidiary running the research facility. “We’ll be pioneering better ways to burn coal and to convert coal to gas. The technologies tested in this project will provide the nation with cleaner and more efficient ways to use its most abundant energy source.”

Some of the high-efficiency electric power systems to be tested at the new facility could allow new or refitted coal-fired plants to make the same amount of electricity while burning one-third less fuel than conventional plants. Such improvements could make coal an even more competitive fuel source — an important development because coal is projected to remain the dominant fuel used to generate electricity in the United States for the foreseeable future.

More than half of the nation’s electricity comes from coal, and the United States has more coal than Saudi Arabia has oil. The Wilsonville facility will provide a test center for U.S. companies to evaluate new technologies that will allow continued use of coal while further improving its environmental acceptability.

“This is about more than inexpensive electricity,” DeNicola said. “This project also enhances the security and independence of the nation’s energy supply.”

The Wilsonville Power Systems Development Facility is located next to Alabama Power’s Plant Gaston, along the Coosa River in Shelby County. It is an extremely flexible test center for various types of advanced power technologies. In examining innovative systems for future power plants, PSDF researchers plan to test:

· An advanced pressurized fluidized bed combustor, which will reduce sulfur and nitrogen emissions as part of the coal combustion process.

· A transport reactor coal gasifier, which will test a way of converting coal into a combustible gas that advanced power plants could use to power gas turbines or run fuel cells.

· A particulate control module, to test a variety of filters for removing tiny particles from coal gases. The filters should reduce emissions and prevent damage to power equipment.

· An advanced burner/gas turbine module, where research into fuel-burning efficiency will take place.

· An advanced fuel cell, which will let researchers explore the potential for chemical conversion of coal gas into electricity.

The cost to construct and operate the Power System Development Facility through 1999 is estimated by DOE to be about $215 million. The Southern Company will contribute more than $10 million. The rest will come from the DOE and industry participants such as the Electric Power Research Institute, Foster Wheeler, M.W. Kellogg and Westinghouse.