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Study: Natural Gas Plants Release 40% Less CO2

By Charles Kennedy | Thu, 16 January 2014 23:15 | 2

A new study confirms previous findings that power plants fueled by natural gas release some 40% less carbon dioxide than coal-fired plants.  

According to the new study conducted by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, combined-cycle natural gas power plants, which use a combination of natural gas and recycled exhaust heat, release significantly less greenhouse gases than their coal-fired counterparts.

The report helps solidify findings from the Energy Information Agency that substituting natural gas for coal in power generation helped lower power-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2012.

Related article: Natural Gas Prices will Soar by 2015

Emissions from the power sector are now lower by 20-40% since 1997 because more and more electricity is coming from these cleaner power plants, lead author Joost de Gouw said.

“That shift in the energy industry meant that power plants, overall, sent 23% less CO2 into the atmosphere last year than they would have, had coal been providing about the same fraction of electric power as in 1997,” he said.

The study looked only at pollution that could be measured from power plant stacks, and did not examine greenhouse gases or other pollutants that leak into the atmosphere during the production stages of natural gas or through the mining of coal.

Evaluating data collected between 1997 and 2012, the study concluded that coal-based power plants emitted an average of 915 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity produced, while natural gas power plants emitted an average of 549 grams. The study said that combined cycle natural gas plants emitted 436 grams CO2 per kilowatt hour.

The US government released a climate action plan in June 2013, outlining the goal of achieving a 17% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020 from 2005 levels.

Power plants—including natural gas, coal-fired and electrical plants--are responsible for 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in the US.

Related article: Market Disruptor: Nuclear Restarts Spells Trouble for LNG

Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published proposed new carbon emissions standards for power plants that would make it impossible for new coal-fired plants to be built without the implementation of carbon capture and sequestration technology, which is still in its early days.  

If finalized, the new standards will boost the future of natural gas-fueled power plants, which can achieve the new emissions standards more readily.

Environmentalists have criticized the EPA’s proposal for being too lax.

"If the EPA is serious about the climate crisis, it needs to be serious about reducing greenhouse pollution from all power plants — regardless of whether they are fueled by gas or coal,” Bill Snape, the senior counsel for the Center, said in a statement. “The bottom line is that we can do better."

By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com

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  • Jörg Dürre on January 17 2014 said:
    Can you please write an article about the complete process some times?

    How well are the alternatives doing including "greenhouse gases or other pollutants that leak into the atmosphere during the production stages of natural gas or through the mining of coal".

    This will give many discussions very interesting input.
  • luc on January 17 2014 said:
    One very important fact is missing in this paper.

    Many coal-fired power plants are old and inefficient.

    Some are 80 years old.

    The oldest power plants emit more than 1100 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.

    New supercritical coal-fired power plants emit 730 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.

    Substitution of 20% of the heat input from coal with biomass in a supercritical coal-fired power plant can reduce CO2 emissions from 730 g/kWh to 580 g/kWh.

    In Europe and in Asia, co-firing of biomass in a supercritical coal-fired power plant is a realistic solution.

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