Overall Assessment of the Vision 21 Program
In this chapter, the committee presents its major findings and recommendations for the overall Vision 21 Program. In the preceding chapters, the committee examined the major components of the program based on the committee members' knowledge, experience, and judgment, aided by interviews with DOE staff and presentations on topical areas by members of industry and academia. The following recommendations address the readiness of the Vision 21 Program to develop deployable options for clean energy systems in the future.
Finding. Vision 21 is an ambitious, forward-looking program to develop substantially improved technologies for using fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal) for the production of electricity, process heat, transportation fuels, and chemicals with greatly reduced environmental impacts. Coal is one of the nation's most abundant resources, and its development as an environmentally acceptable resource is a major objective of the program. The general directions and goals embraced by Vision 21 are in keeping with the requirements for extending fossil-fuel options well into the twenty-first century.
Recommendation. The Vision 21 Program should become the primary focus of the Office of Fossil Energy's Coal and Power Systems Program. Vision 21 should be a separate and clearly defined program of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) with a separate budget for the development of technologies for 2015 and beyond. In the near term, however, the greatest commercial opportunities for advanced energy technologies will be from technologies developed in DOE's ongoing research and development programs in advanced combustion systems,
such as ultra-supercritical steam cycles, pressurized fluidized-bed combustion, and other near-term (2000–2015) technologies.
Finding. The Vision 21 Program does not have a well defined structure for linking its long-term technology development program to three significant neighboring domains: near-term (pre-2015) technology development, commercialization, and basic research programs.
Recommendation. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) should develop mechanisms to link Vision 21 with basic science and engineering research programs in and beyond DOE. DOE should also coordinate its activities related to the domestic and international commercialization and deployment of Vision 21 technologies.
Finding. Carbon management is a critical program objective of Vision 21. In the design of the program, in-plant carbon management (efficiency improvements, carbon capture, and separation) is distinguished from beyond-plant carbon management (the transport and sequestration of separated carbon). The program boundary of Vision 21, however, clearly excludes beyond-plant carbon management, which is in a separate program. The boundary for in-plant carbon management is ambiguous, however. ''Revolutionary" carbon dioxide capture and sequestration are within Vision 21 boundary, but "evolutionary" carbon dioxide capture and sequestration are not.
Recommendation. All research and development (both revolutionary and evolutionary) related to in-plant carbon management should be part of the Vision 21 Program, with most of the effort focused on revolutionary approaches for capturing and separating carbon dioxide.
Finding. Vision 21 recognizes the importance of managing criteria air pollutants (e.g., oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, and particulates) and air toxics and sets a goal of "near-zero" emissions for these pollutants from Vision 21 plants. An additional goal of the program is to eliminate all solid and liquid discharges by converting them into marketable products.
Recommendation. Vision 21 should define specific emissions goals for eliminating environmental pollutants from Vision 21 plants, including a precise definition of the "near-zero" emissions. Integrated plant designs should include processing of periodic wastes, such as spent catalysts, saturated absorbents, contaminated solvents, and water-treatment sludge. In keeping with its industrial ecological approach, the U.S. Department of Energy should assess whether "eliminating environmental concerns" is an achievable goal.
Finding. One of the major strategies of the Vision 21 Program is for the U.S. Department of Energy, in cooperation with industry, to develop modules to be integrated into commercial plants. The economic value of individual modules will depend largely on the feed streams entering and the products leaving that module. Modules cannot be optimized in the abstract, however. They must be developed and optimized in the context in which they will be used.
Recommendation. The Vision 21 Program should focus on the development of a limited number of modules for which integration issues can be defined and resolved.
Finding. The Vision 21 Program Plan, which encompasses a broad range of technology options, requires a well defined process for setting priorities and downselecting among options based on how well they progress towards their targets. In the current program plan, the process for setting priorities and downselecting is not defined.
Recommendation. The Vision 21 Program should establish priorities to make the best use of the resources available to the program. Moreover, the program should have an open, dynamic, peer-reviewed process for downselecting among the technology options funded in the research and development (R&D) program. An independent advisory body should be established to assesses the R&D portfolio annually. Each technology area should also have an R&D advisory committee that reports annually on program directions and content, as well as on the rate of progress towards meeting the technological goals for that technology. The first task of the advisory committee(s) should be to help the U.S. Department of Energy and its R&D partners develop intermediate science and engineering performance targets for evaluating progress towards meeting program goals.
Finding. No management plan for the Vision 21 Program was provided in the information supplied to the committee. The proposed eight-year review cycle is too long, and the boundaries for responsibility are arbitrary, at best.
Recommendation. The U.S. Department of Energy should develop an effective management structure and plans for the Vision 21 Program that accomplishes the following tasks:
establishes intermediate and long-term goals
establishes and staffs an organization with assigned responsibilities
encourages managerial control
prepares and executes detailed plans, including milestones, accomplishments, resources, and schedules
conducts periodic reviews of plant designs and evaluations by Vision 21 management and outside experts to guide the program
Finding. Although efficiency is important for both carbon management and the minimization of environmental impacts, the committee believes that the Vision 21 Program may be placing too much emphasis on thermal efficiency (e.g., an ambitious target of 60-percent efficiency rate for coal-based electric power generation by 2015).
Recommendation. The U.S. Department of Energy should establish criteria for making trade-offs to facilitate the early commercialization of significantly improved technologies that would provide significant improvements (even though they fall short of the ultimate goals for Vision 21) and would be competitive in the power-generation market. Vision 21 should simultaneously pursue high thermal efficiency and market expectations for:
effective performance (including low environmental impact)
low capital and operating costs
improved reliability, availability, and maintenance
improved flexibility and operability
All of these factors should be considered in the prioritization and selection of technologies for continued development and support.
Finding. In the United States, coal is likely to be at a cost disadvantage compared to natural gas. In other countries, such as China and India, where development decisions will greatly affect global carbon emissions, the situation may be different. The Vision 21 Program Plan makes few references to opportunities for marketing Vision 21 technologies in developing countries.
Recommendation. The U.S. Department of Energy should coordinate the Vision 21 Program with other government programs, as well as with industry, to encourage the early deployment of Vision 21 modules and plants in developing markets where coal will be the dominant resource.
Finding. The successful development of advanced coal-based power system technologies in the Vision 21 Program will require a phase of technology deployment before commercialization and transfer to the marketplace.
Recommendation. The Vision 21 Program should encourage the industry-led deployment of new technologies. The value of Vision 21 commercial designs and
cost estimates will be greatly enhanced if they have been validated against existing databases and component demonstrations.
Finding. Coal-gasification systems produce syngas (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen) that can be converted into electricity by gas turbines, fuel cells (IGFC), or gas turbine/fuel cell (IGCCFC) hybrid systems at high electrical conversion efficiencies. Only these combinations of coal-conversion technologies and energy-conversion technologies have the potential to achieve the efficiency target of the Vision 21 Program. These combined systems could also be configured to produce a concentrated carbon dioxide stream, which would minimize the costs of carbon capture, convert essentially all of the sulfur in coal to elemental sulfur, reduce emissions of NOx, hazardous air pollutants, and particulates to de minimis levels, and combine all solid waste products into a nonleachable slag.
Currently, the cost of such plants is in the range of $1,400 to $2,000/kW. Lessons learned from the operation of a number of demonstration plants could lead to lower investments of $1,200 to $1,500/kW. To be competitive with natural gas-fueled combined cycle units after 2015, the investment will have to be less than $800/kW in an IGCC configuration that can achieve 45-percent efficiency and less than $1,000 to $1,100/kW in an IGCCFC configuration than can achieve 60-percent efficiency (neither efficiency level includes the loss associated with carbon capture).
Recommendation. The U.S. Department of Energy should pursue innovative, high-risk research approaches that have the potential to reduce costs to targeted levels. Because the gasification sections of integrated-gasification combined cycle (IGCC) and IGCC/fuel-cell plants will include many highly integrated components, such as a coal handling system, an oxygen production system, a gasification system, a gas cleaning cleaning system, and a heat exchange system, significant cost reductions will be necessary in all sections of the plant to meet the overall 60-percent efficiency goal. The key areas for research will be oxygen production, hydrogen separation, carbon dioxide capture, and high-temperature fuel cells.
Finding. Advanced combustion technologies included in the DOE core power-generation program are limited by practical engineering to efficiencies of 45 to 50 percent, which are substantially below the Vision 21 Program goal of 60 percent. In addition, the dilute carbon dioxide stream from combustion processes is more expensive to separate from the plant effluent than the concentrated carbon dioxide stream from a gasification plant.
Recommendation. Advanced combustion should not be included in the Vision 21 Program. Work on advanced combustion technologies should be continued as part of the main U.S. Department of Energy program to improve power-generating technologies. If new approaches are conceived that support the 60-percent efficiency
goal by 2015, an advanced combustion element should then be added to the Vision 21 Program.
Finding. A coal-gasification complex could produce fuels (including hydrogen) and chemicals, as well as electric power. The Vision 21 Program, however, does not focus enough attention on the major technological hurdles that will have to be overcome for coal-based fuels and chemicals to be competitive with similar products made from petroleum and natural gas. These hurdles will be even more challenging in a carbon-constrained environment because of the lower hydrogen-to-carbon ratio of coal compared to petroleum and natural gas.
Recommendation. The Vision 21 Program should support research and development on the conversion of syngas to fuels and chemicals from coal and other solid fuels with low hydrogen-to-carbon ratios. Efforts should be focused on novel catalysts, reactors, and fuel and chemical products that could narrow the economic and environmental gap between coal-based and petroleum-based and natural gas-based fuels and chemicals.
Finding. The commercial success of the Vision 21 Program will depend largely on the successful development and demonstration of cost-effective coatings and structural, membrane, ceramic, and catalytic materials for Vision 21 systems and components. Nevertheless, the Vision 21 materials research program is not well defined for structural or nonstructural materials.
Recommendation. The entire U.S. Department of Energy materials program should be based on the cost and performance goals for Vision 21 technologies and should be coordinated to meet these goals.
Finding. A key component of the Vision 21 Program is advanced computational modeling, which will be essential to the deployment of Vision 21 facilities, systems integration, and systems analysis. However, the goals, objectives, priorities, and management of modeling are not well defined in the current program plan.
Recommendation. The U.S. Department of Energy should define the specific goals, and priorities of component modeling, and systems modeling, and integration for the Vision 21 Program. The goals and priorities should reflect the current state of scientific understanding, as well as the needs and capabilities of potential model users and model developers in industry, academia, government, and non-governmental organizations.