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. Well 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 nations 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 nations energy supply.
The Wilsonville Power Systems Development Facility is located next to Alabama Powers 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
· 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.