TOKYO -- Kansai Electric Power and five other utilities will join hands to commercialize technology for burning ammonia with coal in power plants, a method that could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 20%.
The group, which also includes Osaka Gas and Chubu Electric Power, will participate in government research on ammonia as an energy source. The goal is to generate power efficiently from a mixture of ammonia and coal, building on work done at Tohoku University and elsewhere. The project also seeks to limit nitrogen oxide emissions from ammonia to levels that can be handled with existing scrubber technology. Field testing is slated to begin this year, with the aim of bringing the technology to market in the early 2020s.
Adding ammonia to coal would reduce coal usage as well as carbon dioxide emissions, since ammonia -- which doesn't contain carbon -- does not release CO2 when burned.
Adopting this technology at aging plants would bring emissions in line with those of newer facilities, reducing the need for new investment. If 70 plants switch to a coal-ammonia mix, CO2 emissions would fall by an estimated 40 million tons a year, equivalent to about 3% of Japan's annual total.
Refitting older, CO2-spewing coal-fired plants with ammonia-burning technology would likely push up power generation costs by some 30% to roughly 7 yen (6 cents) per kilowatt-hour. This would still be cheaper than nuclear power, which costs about 10 yen per kilowatt-hour, and electricity from natural-gas-fired plants, which costs around 14 yen.
Coal accounts for about 30% of Japan's total power generation. With progress still slow on restarting idled nuclear reactors after 2011's earthquake and tsunami, the government views coal as a stable energy source.