The Vision 21 Program is a relatively new research and development (R&D) program. It is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Fossil Energy and its National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). The Vision 21 Program Plan anticipates that Vision 21 facilities will be able to convert fossil fuels (e.g., coal, natural gas, and petroleum coke) into electricity, process heat, fuels, and/or chemicals cost effectively, with very high efficiency and very low emissions, including of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) (DOE, 1999a). Planning for the program began to take shape in 1998 and 1999. Since then, workshops have been held, proposals for projects have been funded, and roadmaps have been developed for each of the key technologies considered to be part of the Vision 21 effort. Vision 21 is focused on the development of advanced technologies that would be ready for deployment in 2015.
Vision 21 as it currently stands is not per se a line item in the Office of Fossil Energy budget but, rather, a collection of projects that contribute to the technologies required for Vision 21 energy plants. Vision 21 management estimates that about $50 million was expended in fiscal year (FY) 2002 on Vision 21 projects and activities. These projects have come about not only as a result of a Vision 21 solicitation by DOE/NETL but also as an outgrowth of ongoing R&D activities in the traditional Office of Fossil Energy coal and power systems program. Ongoing activities that are oriented to achieving revolutionary rather than evolutionary improvements in performance and cost and that share common objectives with Vision 21 are considered to be part of the Vision 21 Program and activities. Thus, Vision 21 activities must be coordinated across a suite of activities in DOE and NETL programs contained in the Office of Fossil Energy’s R&D programs on coal and power systems. This coordination is partially achieved through a matrix
management structure at NETL, and the responsibility for managing Vision 21 is vested in a small steering committee.
The goals of Vision 21 are extremely challenging and ambitious. As noted in the Vision 21 Technology Roadmap, if the program meets its goals, Vision 21 plants would essentially eliminate many of the environmental concerns traditionally associated with the conversion of fossil fuels into electricity and transportation fuels or chemicals (NETL, 2001). Given the importance of fossil fuels, and especially coal, to the economies of the United States and other countries and the need to utilize fossil fuels in an efficient and environmentally acceptable manner, the development of the technologies in the Vision 21 Program is a high priority.
This report contains the results of the second National Research Council (NRC) review of the Vision 21 R&D Program. The first review of the program was conducted by the NRC Committee on R&D Opportunities for Advanced Fossil-fueled Energy Complexes. It resulted in the report Vision 21, Fossil Fuel Options for the Future, which was published in the spring of 2000 (NRC, 2000). At that time, the Vision 21 Program was in an embryonic stage, having been initiated by DOE in 1998-1999. The NRC report contained a number of recommendations for DOE to consider as it moved forward with its program; DOE’s responses to many of these recommendations are considered in Chapter 3. Now, 2 years after the first review, DOE’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Coal and Power Systems requested that the NRC again review progress and activities in the Vision 21 Program. In response, the NRC formed the Committee to Review DOE’s Vision 21 R&D Program—Phase I. Most of the members of this committee also served on the committee that wrote the earlier report (see Appendix A for committee biographical information).
The present report is organized into three chapters. Chapter 1 introduces the Vision 21 Program and presents background information. Chapter 2 presents strategic recommendations for the program as a whole. Chapter 3 focuses on the individual technologies. This Executive Summary brings forward from Chapter 2 three major issues that the committee believes are of the highest priority from a programwide strategic standpoint—namely, what the focus of the program should be, how it should be empowered to accomplish its goals, and what analytic capabilities it should have to evaluate technological approaches for reaching its goals. At the same time, it reiterates the five most important of the nine recommendations in that chapter. Also, based on the premise that some of the technologies in Chapter 3 are more essential than others to realizing Vision 21 goals, the committee selected five high-priority recommendations from that chapter and reiterates them here in the Executive Summary.
The Vision 21 Technology Roadmap was the outcome of a workshop in August 2000 that attempted to identify barriers to the successful development of
each of the technologies under investigation in Vision 21 and to create a strategy for overcoming them (NETL, 2001). Vision 21 envisions the development of technology modules selected and configured to produce the desired power, process heat, or fuel and chemical products from the feedstocks, which would include fossil fuels and, when appropriate, opportunity feedstocks (e.g., biomass, municipal waste). These technology modules will be based on the advanced technologies under development in the program, which are identified in the technology roadmap as (1) gasification, (2) gas purification, (3) gas separation, (4) fuel cells, (5) turbines, (6) environmental control, (7) sensors and controls, (8) materials, (9) computational modeling and virtual simulation, (10) systems analysis and systems integration, (11) synthesis gas conversion to fuels and chemicals, and (12) combustion and high-temperature heat exchange.
The Vision 21 Program Plan anticipates a variety of possible energy plant configurations processing a variety of fossil and waste fuels and producing a varied slate of products to meet specific market needs. In most cases, the primary or only product will be electricity, but other products such as transportation fuels, chemicals, synthesis gas (syngas), hydrogen, and steam might also be produced depending on location and market factors. The use of fossil fuels as a possible pathway to producing hydrogen is also in keeping with the growing interest of DOE in supporting the development of technologies for hydrogen production and use. Vision 21 energy plants will have challenging performance targets for efficiency of fuel-to-electricity generation, conversion of feedstocks to fuels, environmental emissions, and cost (see Chapter 1).1 The targets for emissions include a 40 to 50 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by efficiency improvement and essentially a 100 percent reduction if the CO2 is separated and sequestered, preventing its release to the atmosphere.
Vision 21 Program Focus
Vision 21 was originally conceived as, and to a large extent remains, a very broad and inclusive program. It addresses all fossil fuels, as well as opportunity feedstocks, the conversion of these resources into secondary fuels as well as electricity, the use of both steam and gas cycles, a wide range of scales, and plants designed with and without sequestration-ready greenhouse gases. Given the ambitious and challenging goals, targets, and time scales of the Vision 21 Program and the financial resources available, the committee believes the program’s
chances of success will be improved and the program will be strengthened if it becomes more sharply focused.
Recommendation. The Vision 21 Program should continue to sharpen its focus. It should focus on the development of cost-competitive, coal-fueled systems for electricity production on a large scale (200-500 MW) using gasification-based technologies that produce sequestration-ready carbon dioxide and near-zero emissions of conventional pollutants.
Program Management and Budget
Currently, responsibility for managing Vision 21 on a day-to-day basis is vested in a small steering committee (called the Vision 21 team) drawn from DOE and NETL staff and headed by the Vision 21 program manager. The program manager interacts informally with the NETL program and project managers who control the funding and have oversight responsibility for individual Vision 21 projects. The current management structure thus relies on a process of cooperation and consensus. Because the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the effectiveness of Vision 21 lies with the senior management of DOE/NETL, the Vision 21 Program lacks the level of control and accountability at the program level seen in successful R&D programs. The committee considers that the present management structure is weak and that a more rigorous, integrated program management structure is needed to accomplish the ambitious goals of the Vision 21 Program, with leadership by a program manager who has overall authority and responsibility for meeting the goals of the program.
Recommendation. A more rigorous management structure is needed to accomplish the ambitious goals of the Vision 21 Program. The Vision 21 program manager should be provided with the budget and overall responsibility and authority needed to manage the program, including appropriate staff responsible for program planning, implementation, and evaluation.
Currently, the Vision 21 Program does not have an identifiable budget of its own. DOE/NETL estimates that roughly $50 million of the current (FY 2002) funding is devoted to Vision 21 activities, approximately one fourth of the Office of Fossil Energy’s R&D budget. Vision 21 management projects that to achieve current Vision 21 goals would require that the Vision 21 budget grow by roughly an order of magnitude over the next 5 years. The committee agrees that there is the potential for large imbalances between future program requirements and future funding levels. The committee also believes that the current Vision 21 goals will not be reached if the Vision 21 Program continues to be supported at the present level of funding. Its goals would have to be modified and its projects prioritized. Rigorous assessment requires the formulation of several alternative schedules for
achieving Vision 21 Program goals matched to alternative budget scenarios. This should lead to a convincing argument for the appropriate size of the program.
Recommendation. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) should estimate the budget required to support the current Vision 21 Program goals and should reconcile these estimates with various funding scenarios. DOE/NETL should also estimate and articulate the benefit (or cost) to the United States of achieving (or failing to achieve) Vision 21 goals.
More than any previous program within DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, Vision 21 requires a strong component of systems integration and analysis to set goals and priorities. For Vision 21 to lead to systems that can compete in the marketplace, the advanced technologies being developed within NETL’s current program structure (e.g., gasifiers, turbines, fuel cells) must be successfully integrated at a commercial scale. Many integration issues—for example, the integration of fuel cells with gas turbines—remain unresolved.
Currently, systems analysis and integration activities are handled piecemeal, mainly by external organizations performing independently as DOE contractors. The DOE Vision 21 team appears not to have sufficient internal engineering capabilities to model, analyze, and evaluate the potential of alternative Vision 21 plant configurations. Nor does DOE/NETL currently have access to all of the proprietary models and databases developed and used by its contractors for process development and systems evaluation.
Systems integration and engineering analysis should play a far more prominent role in the Vision 21 Program and management structure than is currently the case. The key planning decisions, such as decisions about priorities and funding levels for the various component technologies, should stem from careful and systematic analyses of alternative options and their likelihood of success.
Recommendation. The U.S. Department of Energy and the National Energy Technology Laboratory should create an independent systems analysis group for the Vision 21 Program, colocated with the program leadership and responsible for systems integration and engineering analysis. This group should provide an independent view of the promise and value of various projects and technologies from the perspective of Vision 21. It should develop the in-house ability to use credible engineering performance and cost models for all major plant components; to configure and analyze alternative Vision 21 plant designs; and to evaluate the reliability, availability, and maintainability of alternative designs. By continually refining its process flow sheets and iterating with Vision 21 project teams, the group should identify key technical bottlenecks and integration issues.
It should draw on its in-house technical expertise and modeling capabilities to provide assistance, advice, and R&D guidance to the DOE program leadership and Vision 21 project teams.
Effective management and monitoring of progress in the technology development programs is important to the productive utilization of limited resources and to the overall success of the program. Enhanced systems analysis and integration can also help to assess trade-offs and to establish correct performance goals for different technologies. The Vision 21 Program leadership has developed a technology roadmap that lays out plans and timetables for achieving Vision 21 goals. Currently, however, many of the goals and milestones of Vision 21 describe end points more than a decade from now. Such long-term milestones have limited programmatic value.
Recommendation. The Vision 21 Program leadership should develop detailed intermediate milestones in the context of an overall technology roadmap. The milestones should have high technical content and specified costs. Responsibility within the Vision 21 Program for creating these interim milestones and for designing the programs to reach them should be clearly assigned. Moreover, formal processes should be established that lead to independent technical audit and evaluation of the programs.
Fuel-flexible gasification systems convert carbon-containing feedstocks (coal, petroleum coke, residual oil, wastes, biomass, etc.) by reacting them with oxygen at elevated pressure and temperature to produce synthesis gas (syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen). After cleaning to meet the requirements for subsequent processing, the syngas can be converted into electricity by combined-cycle (gas turbine together with a steam turbine), fuel cell, or gas turbine–fuel cell hybrid power plants at high energy conversion efficiencies. These are the combinations of coal-conversion technology and energy-conversion technology most likely to have the potential to achieve the 60 percent (based on higher heating value, HHV) efficiency target of the Vision 21 Program. When it is reacted with steam in a gasification plant system, syngas can also be converted into a mixture of hydrogen and CO2 at relatively low cost compared with a combustion system. This mixture can then be separated into essentially pure streams of hydrogen for fuel or chemical use and CO2 that can be sequestered (NRC, 2000).
The Vision 21 Program has a number of advanced technologies under development that are necessary to meet the challenging goals of the program. Chapter 3 contains the committee’s assessment of progress, barriers, critical issues, and
recommendations for each technology area; further details about the technologies and background can also be found in the committee’s first report (NRC, 2000). The following are the highest-priority technology-related findings and recommendations identified by the committee. They pertain to gasification, gas purification, turbines, and fuel cells.
Finding. Under current conditions in the United States, heavy-oil- and coke-fueled integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) plants, as well as gasification plants for the production of hydrogen and other chemical feedstocks, are economically viable today because the feedstocks have near-zero or negative value. However, commercial-scale coal gasification-based power plants are not currently competitive with natural gas combined-cycle power plants at today’s relative natural gas and coal prices, nor are they projected to be so by 2015 without significant capital cost reductions. Even if the projected cost of these plants reaches the required levels, investors need confidence that these plants will run as designed, with availability levels in excess of 90 percent. The only way to achieve this is to build additional plants incorporating the necessary lower cost improvements and to allow extended periods for start-up so the improved technologies can mature sufficiently to meet their goals. The pace of development and demonstration appears to be too slow to meet the goal of having coal gasification technology qualified for the placement of commercial orders by 2015.
Recommendation. The U.S. Department of Energy should work cooperatively with industry on technology development programs to lower the cost and improve the reliability of the first few commercial-scale Vision 21 plants. The Clean Coal Power Initiative (CCPI), recently authorized by Congress, is an example of the kind of program that can provide support for the construction of high-risk, early commercial plants. These plants should demonstrate and perfect the technology that will make coal gasification-based power plants suitable for deployment on normal commercial terms.
Finding. The U.S. Department of Energy development programs for Vision 21 technologies for gas cleanup, fuel cells, and power production with advanced gas turbines do not currently include adequate testing of these technologies on actual coal-derived synthesis gas (syngas). The most effective way to accomplish the required testing is to install slipstream units in existing coal-fueled gasification plants so that the needed performance data can be collected. This is not being done.
Recommendation. The U.S. Department of Energy is encouraged to set up programs for the installation and operation of slipstream units to obtain data needed from commercial-scale gasification plants.
Finding. The objectives of the gas purification program are not stated quantitatively or with the required cost targets, and the milestones are insufficiently detailed to permit intermediate assessments of progress towards goals.
Recommendation. The objectives and milestones for the gas purification program need to be more rigorously defined and stated and the responsibility for accomplishing each milestone assigned clearly to a performing organization. Intermediate milestones with a higher technical content and specific cost targets also need to be incorporated into future review processes and into ongoing assessments of progress. Cost-benefit analyses and cost targets need to be incorporated into the planning and execution of these programs.
Finding. In response to current industry needs, the U.S. Department of Energy’s High Efficiency Engine Technology (HEET) program is focused on natural gas as a fuel to both gas turbines and gas turbine–fuel cell hybrids. Additional information and data are required to develop cost-effective, reliable, emission-compliant systems for power generation in Vision 21 gasification-based plants.
Recommendation. Additional commitments should be made to develop, design, and test large-scale turbine and fuel cell power systems that can function successfully on both synthesis gas (syngas) and hydrogen, including the development of sophisticated thermal cycles involving intercooling, reheat, humidification, and recuperation. Improvements in current natural-gas-fueled power generation systems should be incorporated to the extent appropriate in syngas- and hydrogen-fueled Vision 21 power plants. The U.S. Department of Energy is encouraged to set up programs for the installation of test articles (including vanes, blades, and other high-temperature components) as well as for the installation and operation of slipstream units to obtain the needed data from commercial-scale gasification plants.
Finding. The Vision 21 Roadmap for fuel cell technology identifies performance and cost goals for the various components of a high-temperature fuel cell energy system. The roadmap also lists the barriers to reaching each of these goals. The Vision 21 fuel cell program includes four fuel cell plants as its main milestones. The overall Vision 21 programs in gasification, gas processing and separation, gas turbines, materials, modeling, systems computations, etc., have elements that may pertain to fuel cell energy systems.
Recommendation. The U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory Vision 21 fuel cell program plan and schedule should incorporate milestones in addition to the current four milestones, each of which represents the construction and operation of a high-temperature fuel cell power-generation plant. The additional milestones should deal with (1) removal of significant barriers to program success identified in the fuel cell roadmap and (2) accomplishment of significant steps in preparation for plant construction and operation, including developments, tests, designs, and evaluations of performance and costs for both the demonstration plant and the projected commercial plant. To the extent possible, the milestones should include quantitative measures as criteria for successful achievement, such as overall capital and operating costs of the projected commercial plant.